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On Prayer



Thoughts on prayer and meditation


The Latin word for religion, translated into our own language, means “piety” and comes from the Latin verb religare, which expresses the action of tying together or joining something with something or someone with someone. Actually, the primary purpose of religion, issuing from the depths of human nature, is to join the creation with the Creator, bind the being which has been created to the Being Who has created. Thus the relationship with the Creator is the rod onto which all other aspects of spiritual life are threaded. In Christianity this relation-ship is customarily designated by the deep and warm word “prayer.”

The Orthodox concept of prayer sees it as the expression of a Christian’s personal contact with God as His Saviour and Consecrator. The well-known 16th century ascetic, St. Nilus of Sora, writes that prayer is “the conversation of the mind with God.” Prayer is specifically not a monologue, but a conversation in which the Lord answers the soul and illuminates it with the grace of the Holy Spirit. By sanctifying man’s inner world God teaches man to seek Him above all else: not the material and the temporal, but the eternal and the genuinely valuable. Man, conversing with God through prayer, realizes that God is the supreme and most powerful Being, full of love, but at the same time just, a Being before Whom one is filled with awe. He is the Father Whom one must obey. Such an experience of prayer aids the moral perfection of man and leads him to the highest good – the Heavenly Realm. It intensifies in man the feeling of repentance and the zeal for fulfilling God’s commandments. By following the path of penitence and perfec-tion, the ascetic approaches a true knowledge of God. And the knowledge of God will become absolute when man reaches the height of loving God and loving his neighbors, for “every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God… for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).

Having outlined the major contours of a prayerful contact with the Creator and the consequences of such contact, let us turn to an analysis of the practice of meditation and the consequences of such. In contrast to the Christian experience of meeting a personal God Who is a holy Being, the Oriental mystic experience of “illumination” gives a sensation of one’s consciousness dissolving in an ocean of the impersonal. Accordingly, such an experience will never lead to a feeling of penitence. On the contrary, there were numerous instances where it engendered a feeling of self-worth bordering on megalomania. Examining the yoga meditation as one of the mystic Oriental practices which supposedly serves as a means of attaining supreme knowledge, achieving super-abilities and power over nature and people, – we see that this practice uses only certain psychotechnical methods and certain restrictions of an earthly, human (as opposed to divine) nature: abstinence from meat, fish, games of chance, narcotics. There is not a single word about peni-tence, conscience, heartfelt remorse, fear of God, about a selfless love for God and other people, there is no appeal to bear the burdens of others and to put down one’s life for others.

In the world of yoga the universe is perceived as a certain amorphous mass from which anything can be created in accordance with the principle: “As I change, so I change the world.” Yoga adepts are taught to watch their moods with great attention. Not a single thought, deed, or external event must darken one’s mood or cause discomfort. Thus everything that disturbs the inner peace is consi-dered to be negative. From the point of view of general human morality, the appeal to spiritual comfort as a spiritual goal is quite doubtful. The feeling of com-passion, pain for others, protests against violence and injustice, – do all these spring from a striving for spiritual comfort? Is not such a position a manifestation of spiritual paralysis rather than spiritual ascent? “Rejoice with them that do rejoice and weep with them that do weep,” – exhorts us Apostle Paul (Rom. 12:15). Moreover, the attempt to achieve a state of pseudo-tranquility – rather, absence of feeling – leads to irreplaceable spiritual loss. “Numbness of the heart,” – says St. John of the Ladder, – “blinds the mind.”

Let us now turn our attention to the psychotechnical methods employed by the technique of meditation. First of all, this includes a manipulation of one’s attention. One must concentrate on an external object, i.e. attention is at first supported by a perceptible object. The next stage is for an active imagination to create a certain image. Subsequently the vision is substantiated and rendered con-crete, and thus the fantasy’s creation achieves a certain material essence in another plane of being which replaces physical nature. In conclusion the adept attempts to merge with the object of his meditation, to dissolve his consciousness and his individuality in it.

Such a sensual and fantastic yogic concentration, bound to an image, is diametrically opposed to the concentration of the Orthodox ascetic – the prayer of the heart, which is spiritual and without any artificially created images.

A special place in Eastern spiritual practices is occupied by mantra-yoga – the method of Krishna worshippers, Tibetan Buddhism, transcendental meditation, and other philosophies. The goal of mantra-yoga is not simply the acquisition of knowledge and visions or the development of powers, but the direct sensual vision and contact with the “divinity of the mantra,” in order to supposedly attain a state of bliss.

The word “mantra” comes from two words: manum and tra – the liberation of the mind from the perception of images of the physical world. It has been asserted that if the mantra, which is the name of one of the divinities of the Hindu pantheon, is repeated persistently and at great length, one may become the lucky recipient of a visit by this deity. Although admitting that the mantra can summon a lower being, i.e. a demon, proponents of these philosophies nevertheless believe that higher beings, i.e. angels, may equally appear, since angels and demons supposedly emerge as a result of karma.

From a Christian point of view, such a belief in the organization of the spi-ritual world cannot but lead to demonic delusion. Christians have a clear indi-cation of how to differentiate between the spirits: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God (and the spirit of delusion): every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God. And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus is come in the flesh is not of God; and this is the spirit of Antichrist (1 John 4:2-3).

Let us examine yet another spiritual practice – that of dynamic meditation, used by adherents of the Hindu guru Sri Rajnisha. The technique of this particular meditation is built upon the supposition that a disciple’s spiritual growth depends on his approach and attachment to the personality of the guru. It is explained that with the aid of such a spiritual practice “the consequences of all previous life expe-riences are erased, and energy is discovered.” Each séance of dynamic meditation begins with chaotic breathing accompanied by the beating of drums. The resultant hyperventilation of the lungs makes an individual drunk from an excess of oxygen. He is then advised to scream, roll on the floor, make any voluntary movements he wishes. The special state experienced by the individual during such a séance is explained as something mysterious, made possible only by a secret possessed by the guru. In reality, according to medical opinion this phenomenon is nothing more than a physiological trick.

Together with guru Rajnisha there were also professional psychotherapists working in the sect. They brainwashed people into believing that they themselves were responsible for their previous tortured condition. After a few days of “therapy,” a person lost the ability to reflect, became an individual without a per-sonal biography. Now he was ready to encompass the new doctrine, accepting the guru within himself. In this state people remained without a jot of reason, they were way out of reality, out of context. As a result, adherents of this sect were later unable to return to normal life without reverse psychiatric help.

What does modern science say about such manifestations? The states into which seekers of the paranormal whip themselves can also be found in hypnotism, in somnambulism, in various mental illnesses, such as hysteria, epilepsy, etc. – in general, all the conditions which are bound up with the repression of the large hemispheres of the brain – the organ of our consciousness. In a state of meditation, many of the yoga’s life functions (pulse, breathing) are repressed, including the activity of the brain core. This is done by holding in one’s breath, squeezing the veins and arteries while sitting in unnatural poses, etc. Scientific research has shown that during meditation the basic rhythm of the brain is repressed and its epileptic activity comes to the fore.

As we already know, the right hemisphere is responsible for the formation of one’s emotional state. With its activity is connected, for example, the experiencing of different feelings. The left hemisphere is logical thinking. Experiments have confirmed that under the influence of meditational practices the asymmetry between the hemispheres increases and the right hemisphere begins to dominate. With such a change in the physiology of the brain, the psyche also changes. Infallible logic is combined with coldness of emotion, a harsh rationality – with the lack of pity and compassion. It is precisely an icy coldness which we feel emana-ting from those have risen to apparent spiritual heights by following the path of the occult. From the point of view of Christianity – this is a path of spiritual suicide.

In contrast to the occult path, a Christian, whose only goal is contact with God, always, at all stages of his spiritual life keeps his soul concentrated and active. A Christian does not cut himself off from his mind or his consciousness; he does not acquire another consciousness – it is impossible for the Spirit of wisdom to make a person lose his mind. There is no question here of a disintegration of the personality; on the contrary, there is a gathering of mental forces, their concen-tration. This occurs through a reciprocal action of God and man: to man’s effort and diligence the Lord responds with His grace.

Prayer transforms man’s entire being. Within the heart, cleansed of passions, love dwells and dominates. The mind is led beyond the boundaries of humanity and enters the province of the Divine, becomes liberated from distraction and attachment to earthly things. In the mystery of prayer the inner self awakens, the profound and intimate voice of the heart – usually drowned out by the noise of emotions, thoughts, and passions, – now becomes heard. The fire of love which warms the heart of the Orthodox ascetic becomes the source of joy and solace to all those around him.

Thus is transformed the individual who seeks and finds the Kingdom of God, which, as the Lord tells us, is within us (Luke 17:21).


(Reprinted from “The Resurrection,” No. 4, 2000.)


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