Dangerous Meditations: Saying No to Yoga
I hate to pull rank, but sometimes it has to be done. I have been studying religion, philosophy, and theology for over thirty years. I have written five books on New Age spirituality, given hundreds of lectures and sermons on it, and participated in debates and panel discussions. I have engaged in intense spiritual warfare on this matter. To practice yoga is to open oneself to spiritual darkness. Let us instead take on the yoke of Jesus Christ (Matthew 11:28-29) and repent of all counterfeits. God is willing to forgive, restore, and empower on His terms.]
Overstressed Americans are increasingly turning to various forms of Eastern meditation—particularly yoga—in search of relaxation and spirituality. A recent Time interview with Gloria Steinem shows her matter-of-factly sitting in the lotus position. But underlying the meditative practices stemming from the religions of the East is a worldview in conflict with meditation and spirituality, despite the fact that many Christians are (unwisely) practicing yoga. Many Eastern religions teach that the source of salvation is found within, and that fundamental human problem is not sin against a holy God, but ignorance of our true condition. These worldviews advocate mediation and “higher forms of consciousness” as a way to discover a secret inner divinity.
Yoga, deeply rooted in Hinduism, essentially means to be “yoked” with the divine. Yogic postures, breathing, and chanting are designed not to bring better physical health and wellbeing (Western marketing to the contrary), but to bring union with God Brahman (a Hindu word for God). This is pantheism (all is divine), not Christianity.
Transcendental Meditation, founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, is a veiled form of Hindu yoga, despite its claims to be a religiously neutral method of relaxation and rejuvenation. TM initiates are given a mantra (a Hindu holy word) to repeat while sitting in yogic postures and engaging in yogic breathing in order to find God within their own being, since God (Brahman) and the self (Atman) are really one. Despite their differences, the various forms of Eastern meditation aim at a supposedly “higher” or “alerted” state of consciousness. This is because they claim that our normal consciousness obscures sacred realities. Therefore, meditation is practiced in order to suspend normal rational patterns of thought. This helps explain why so many Eastern mystics claim that divine realities are utterly beyond words, thought, and personality. In order to find “enlightenment,” one must extinguish one’s critical capacities—something the Bible never calls us to do (Romans 12:1-2). In fact, suspending our critical capacities through meditation opens the soul to deception and even to spiritual bondage.
The biblical worldview is completely at odds with the pantheistic concepts driving Eastern meditation. Rather than claiming that salvation lies within, the Scriptures affirm that we are spiritually incapacitated by our sin against a personal and holy God. Consequently, we require a supernatural rescue from beyond ourselves. Jesus taught that our inner nature makes us unclean (Mark 7:21-23). Paul amplifies this by declaring that we are “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). We cannot find either God or virtue within since “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
We are not one with an impersonal God, but are estranged from God because of our “true moral guilt” (Francis Schaeffer). No amount of chanting, breathing, visualizing, or physical contortions will melt away the sin that separates us from the Lord of the cosmos—however “peaceful” these practices may feel. Moreover, Paul warns that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). “Pleasant” experiences may be portals to peril. Even yoga teachers themselves warn that yoga may open one up to spiritual and physical maladies.
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. If it were possible to find enlightenment within, God would not have sent “his one and only Son” (John 3:16; see also 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5) to die on the Cross for our sins in order to give us new life today and hope for eternity through Christ’s resurrection. We cannot raise ourselves from the dead.
But those who have followed the call of Christ to repent of their sins (Matthew 4:17) and turn to him in faith are challenged by Scripture to come before God through prayer and meditation. The biblical concept of prayer assumes that rational and meaningful communication between God and humans is possible. We offer our praise, petition, intercession, and thanksgiving to a personal God through human language. In other words, prayer is propositional—however emotional it may also be. The Lord’s prayer, for example is based on revealed truths about God and creation (Matthew 6:1-6; see also 1 Thessalonians 5:17). There is no summons to suspend rational judgment even when prayer through the Holy Spirit is “with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26). Nor should we repeat words meaninglessly to induce a trance (Matthew 6:7). Biblical meditation means pondering God’s revealed truths and reflecting on how they pertain to us. David revels in the richness of God’s law throughout Psalm 119. He encourages us to meditate on it: “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (Psalm 119:15-16). Since all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:15-17), all of it is profitable for meditation in the biblical sense.
Douglas Groothuis is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and the author of several books, including, Unmasking the New Age and Confronting the New Age.