Yesterday I chatted with a friend about God. He is a Christian, in addition to having a logic mind like no other. Many years ago, he told me about some things he had seen that he just could`t explain with reason. Those experiences related to ghosts, but he was not so interesting diving a discussion about their existence. What he wanted to talk about, on the other hand, was the reality of a “creator”. He did not want to use the name God, as this is just a label we have given to something we can`t explain. When I asked him what convinced him the most, he told me: “Science”. I have also read about other bright scientists, who have arrived at the same conclusion, and I find it intriguing. But, for me there still is a logical flaw: If there had to be a creator behind the big bang, who created the creator?
I have prayed for a power like you
To see deep down in my soul
Katy Perry, Spiritual
I am no closer to an answer. But maybe I don`t need to. Right now it`s enough to know that there are things I can`t explain. And there certainly is more to life than we can see or hear. If those things are phenomena we still can`t explain, or if there really is somebody “out there” does not really matter. What matters is embracing it.
Flying high as a kite on your love
Lost in sweet ecstasy
Found a nirvana finally
Katy Perry, Spirituality
June 6 at 9:04 PM
Inside the newly opened Meditation Museum in Silver Spring, exhibits refer to the pursuit of “God,” the “Supreme Soul” and often “The One.” A constant visual theme is orangeish-reddish light emanating from a vague, otherworldly source. The message is clear: Meditation is about connecting with the divine.
“If the mind can be in a state of experiencing the energy of God’s light or presence,” said Sister Jenna Mahraj, a nightclub owner turned spiritual teacher whose organization opened the museum this year, “it’s like everything we tend to find so disheveled — it starts to find its own purpose.”
Yet in gyms, businesses and public schools in every direction from the museum — which sits on busy Georgia Avenue — meditation is often presented as something akin to mental weight-lifting: a secular practice that keeps your brain and emotions in shape. Gyms list it alongside Zumba classes, and public schools say it can help students chill out before tests by calming the mind and training it to look upon disruptive thoughts from a non-judgmental perspective.
This rough juxtaposition between the religious and secular versions of meditation epitomizes a key debate about the ancient practice as it explodes in the United States: What is the purpose of meditation? And who decides?
To Mahraj and her community, called the Brahma Kumaris, promoting the religious component is part of the purpose of the Silver Spring center, which is more about spiritual advocacy than a museum in the classic sense.
“This country needs to stop thinking meditation is about emptying your mind,” she said during a recent tour. “I respect all meditation practices, but I don’t necessarily believe in a practice that tries to ‘empty’ your thoughts. . . . I don’t think that’s normal.”
Mahraj is not alone in her concern that meditation might be getting too secular, which can be shorthand for saying that today it is often taught value-free — unattached to a philosophy or worldview. Hindu and Buddhist leaders in particular have raised concerns that meditation may be going the route yoga has in the West, where it has largely morphed from being a tool for enlightenment to one for a firmer tush.
“What are we teaching? That’s a very serious question for anyone who is taking these techniques out of a religious context and into the secular world,” said Clark Strand, a former Zen Buddhist monk who now writes and lectures on spirituality and the way Eastern philosophies are transformed in the West.
“Once you remove them from the spiritual context, then goals default to those of the culture, and that could be to win a war, or make money, or to self-medicate so you can do a job you hate or for which you aren’t paid enough,” Strand said. “Who does [meditation] serve today? Who does it belong to? Is its purpose spiritual or just a commodity?”
Ironically, when meditation began its expansion a decade or so ago from Buddhist retreats and alternative communes to the American mainstream, institutional religion was wary that the practice was too religious — but not in a sufficiently monotheistic Judeo-Christian way.
“The biblical worldview is completely at odds with the pantheistic concepts driving Eastern meditation. We are not one with an impersonal absolute being that is called ‘God.’ Rather, we are estranged from the true personal God” because of our inherent sin, evangelical philosopher Douglas Groothuis wrote in Christianity Today in 2004 — a piece typical of what was found in religious media as meditation began its ascent. “The answer to our plight is not found in some ‘higher level of consciousness’ (really a deceptive state of mind), but in placing our faith in the unmatched achievements of Jesus Christ on our behalf.”
But meditation has spread too far and too successfully into areas such as the treatment of depression, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder for the debate to remain simply: Is it too secular or too religious? This is because meditation’s boom comes at a time of remarkable openness to questions about religion itself, with people — particularly young ones — probing much more about what, exactly, constitutes a “religious” practice, belief or prayer.
For example, while some say meditating for stress relief is “secular,” doesn’t that address a very modern-day type of suffering? Or is something else theologically meant by the word “suffering”? If you practice a type of focus meditation that involves, for example, chanting a basic word such as “love,” is that secular or religious?
And what is really meant by meditation leaders who tell students to practice “emptying their mind”? People such as Mahraj would see such a phrase as devoid of any philosophy, but others would say secular-sounding phrases aren’t necessarily “empty.”
“That’s a straw man,” prominent brain-science writer Daniel Goleman said of the idea that secular practice teaches nothing in particular. “It pays to stop your stressed-out mind state, let your psychology calm down and your mind clear, that’s just human engineering. In the Buddhist context that’s a preliminary state to a spiritual journey.”
Goleman is the author of “A Force for Good,” a book due out this month about pragmatic — one might say secular — applications of the Dalai Lama’s teachings.
The blurry lines between religious and secular are at play in Mahraj’s work, too. The Brahma Kumaris, an 80-year-old spiritual movement with roots in India, teaches that meditation and prayer are about coming closer to God and “that each one of us is an eternal spirit or soul.” In an effort to spread its teachings in the Washington region, the group opened its museum in downtown Silver Spring six years ago. It relocated to the new space in April.
But in addition to espousing the beliefs of those behind the center, the museum offers a broad range of more secular self-help activities such as courses on vegetarian cooking and budgeting. Mahraj, whose parents were Hindu and Catholic, speaks in area schools, to challenged youth in particular. She hosts a Web-based talk show called “America Meditating.”
But Mahraj says that the purpose of the meditation her group teaches is religious. The regular practice of the Brahma Kumaris is to meditate at home for 45 minutes at 4 a.m., then attend a class together at 6 a.m. that is part silent meditation and part teaching, she said.
“We’re not teaching people to empty their minds,” she said. “We’re teaching them to fill their minds with the right kind of things.”
The soaring interest in meditation has prompted many religious groups to revive their own ancient meditative practices. Jesuit meditation retreats and church-run classes on “centering prayers” — a contemplative Christian practice — are popping up everywhere, as are programs on Jewish meditation. Muslims are discussing more if the classic practice of reciting many names of Allah is a type of meditation.
But the secular-religious debate is appearing among faith groups, too. Some find centering prayers — which call for the practitioner to focus on a general word such as “mercy” rather than liturgy — too secular, said the Rev. Jim Martin, a popular Catholic writer on spirituality who leads retreats in Catholic contemplative practices.
“Some Catholics are suspicious about centering. They’ll say: ‘That’s so Buddhist, is that a mantra?’ ” he said.
Martin and others see meditation as perhaps a secular society’s way of tiptoeing back to God.
“Some say the Christian of the future will be a mystic or not a Christian at all,” he said. “You have to have a spiritual life.”
Anout the author:
Michelle Boorstein is the Post’s religion reporter, where she reports on the busy marketplace of American religion.
I was born dubious. When caterpillars let themselves wait for faith, turning into butterflies, I studied myself like a professor studied his books. When I thought I reached an answer, doubt would arrive at my doorstep, making sure I didn’t jump into things before being sure. When other children played around like there would be no tomorrow, I sat in my corner doubting it all.
There were some Words that made me feel safe and sure, however. And I Guess many of you already know them. I just want to remind everyone about this: There is always someone around you who will be there and take Your hand, especially if you dare to believe in it.
One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the LORD.
Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonging to him, and the other to the LORD.
When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand.
He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints.
He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life.
This really bothered him and he questioned the LORD about it:
“LORD, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I needed you most you would leave me.”
The LORD replied:
“My son, my precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
written by Carolyn Joyce Carty
Sometimes, my life has been like living in the slum. I`ve taken baths in muddy thoughts, surrounded myself with filth and made acquaintance with infectious rats gnawing at what they found.
At times I embraced this way of life, thinking I had no choice. I invited tornado’s into our rooms, destroying the little we had left. Sometimes I didn`t even try to wash myself since normal hygiene took too much energy. At other times, though, I desperately tried to protest and do something about our situation. I tried little things, like tidying inside, walking miles for clean water or rebelled against dirty toilets filled with reminders of how bad it can get. I`ve felt strong, capable and optimistic,
until I felt the draft of air when someone shut my personal door to Narnia . I must admit I even slammed it shut myself, in moment of bitter resentment.
The emotional moments when I could see freedom shining behind that threshold, I often met with my personal Slumdog God of Guilt. He was a stern-looking fellow, who liked to point out the obvious:”I did not deserve that freedom. Could I not see that?” He told me to stay in the slum and to not dream of a better life. How could I continue over the threshold when many poor would be left behind? How could I leave when others were dying, starving and dirty? Shouldn`t I stay there to protect them? I discussed this thoroughly with my friend Shame, who worshipped got Guilt as much as me.
Sometimes, coincidences happen. I was walking through my muddy environment in feverish hunger. My inner GPS broke down, and let me to unknown territory. When my head cleared enough to register my surroundings, I discovered the most beautiful lake I´ve ever seen. Sitting solemnly on a rock, was a calm and serene man. He turned his head and looked at me with the most talkative eyes I´ve ever said. He stretched out his hand while telling me his name: The God of Compassion. The meeting changed my life. He started to follow me everywhere, no matter what I thought about it. He came into my tent, sat down with me and our bugs, put clean sheets on my soiled bed, and gave me warm cups of energy. He told me that thinking about my needs, was also thinking about others. That by turning the energy-switch from 0 to 10 too fast, my ability to help went up in flames. He also said that by punishing myself, by hating and feeling bad for all I did not do, I only made it worse.
The little girl in the slum, God Guilt and my friend Worry were sceptic to the constant presence of him everywhere we went. Our whole lives we were told that Worry and Hard work was the only way to cope. They worshipped Shame and Guilt, and would probably have built a statue of pride for them if they would have time between the constant tasks of worrying about the state of our food ration, our deadly diseases or what we could do to prevent it from killing us kill us. God Guilt always reminded us of the work left, and when the little princess tried to sit down after scrubbing our plates and souls, God Guilt and Shame came with their whips.
God Compassion kept arriving at the little princess`s tent. He let his caramel-flavored words drizzle over
them and promised that nothing would happen if we started to relax more, or think about ourselves. His deep, soothing voice said we were not egoists, and slowly, we started to listen. His words were so sweet, like mint chocolate in our mouths. We could not resist.
To our surprise, this did not lead to punishment. By having less time for God Worry, who some still followed in thick and thin, I saw that the others must have misunderstood what God Worry meant. Maybe the transmission of God´s signal get`s warbled in the slum?
Years later, when I fought my way out of the slum by doing what felt right (no matter if my still present friends Shame and Guilt told me I must think more of others), I met more people who also knew about God Compassion, and were worshipping him instead of Worry, Shame and Doubt. This did not lead to destruction or bad things for others around them. It seemed that the more they followed G. Compassion`s way of life, the more they did for others AND for themselves.
Time and again I`ve tried to show others the truth of God Compassion, but some are always too busy to listen. They have to work, think about what might go wrong, even after everything is better and they have more of what they need. They insist on telling you what`s really important: “My car made this funny sound, so what if it breaks down tomorrow?“. Panic often fill their eyes, fogging out the beauty in plain view. When I was younger, I felt like that, too, but my God of Compassion let me rest. With his soft smile and words he told me: “Everything will be okay. If you just enjoy things now, I`m sure you`ll be able to do whatever you must when the time comes”
Today, I feel like the luckiest person on earth. I feel like a princess, even if I grew up in the slum. And do you know what the best thing is? I`ve met so many fellow slum dogs at my journey. They were also princesses, kings or little queens, but didn`t always realize it, either. All of them were kind, warm and wonderful if you let them show it, no matter how dirty they were before
In the Background: Life in a Delhi Slum (thirdeyemom.com)
What is Faith without Action? (now1040.com)