Can Catholics Practice Yoga and Transcendental Meditation?
Among many Christians who are honestly seeking to deepen their prayer life, there is a genuine concern about erroneous forms of prayer. People should be careful to accept practices which diverge from the faith they have received, whether through the family or in a faithful RCIA program. Within such a desire for fidelity to Christ and his Church, some wonder if practices such as Yoga and Transcendental Meditation constitute dangerous practices which work against this desire.
style="margin: 0px; font-size: 11px; line-height: normal; font-family: Helvetica;">RALEIGH, NC (Catholic Online) - Among many Christians who are honestly seeking to deepen their prayer life, there is a genuine concern about erroneous forms of prayer. People should be careful and cautious about accepting practices which diverge from the faith they have received, whether through the family or in a faithful RCIA program. Within such a desire for fidelity to Christ and his Church, some wonder if practices such as Yoga and Transcendental Meditation constitute dangerous practices which work against this desire.
There two equally problematic approaches to this question. The first is what is commonly called syncretism. This position would hold that Yoga and Transcendental Meditation, indeed all East Asian religious practices, are equally valid paths to God, and that Christianity is just one among many equally valuable religions. Such a position borders on elements of the New Age movement which often picks and chooses different things from a variety of religions to create a esoteric spirituality that is dangerous.
The second position is that Yoga and Transcendental meditation are demonic, and thus will lead to vice and damnation. The problem with such a position is that within Hindu and Buddhist cultures, there are many people of good will who practice them and show the marks of authentic virtue. In addition, the Catholic Church has taken great pains to complement the spirituality of these ancient cultures in the document of the Second Vatican document Nostra Aetate.
To better appreciate why these practices can be a cause for concern, we should make a careful distinction. We should recognize that there is a difference between Hindus and Buddhists who are authentic in the desire for truth, goodness, and beauty (however, they might understand their quest), and those who adopt East Asian practices as an explicit rejection of Christianity. In the case of the former, often they embrace a morality that is in many ways complementary to the Christian faith.
In this way, their spiritual practices can be an authentic search for meaning that can be a preparation of the Gospel. In the case of those who use yoga and transcendental meditation to flee from Christ, often their practices are combined with sexual licentiousness, drug abuse, and other forms of immorality. Such a cocktail of esoteric spirituality and immoral living is probably the ground for much of condemnations of exorcists and those who work in deliverance ministry.
So where does that leave Christians who want to do yoga and transcendental meditation?
In terms of the first, I would offer a word of caution. Much of the theory and spirituality that informs yogic literature is pre-scientific views of the body and the cosmos which are not completely in accord with Christian thought. By way of an analogy, it is similar to reading manuals of medicine from the Middle Ages of Europe. There may be some wisdom contained within them, but their is a reason that Western sciences have developed more accurate ways of understanding biology.
For the most part, I would argue that yogic thought needs to be demythologized. By this, I mean that it needs to be stripped of the Hindu understanding of the body and many of the ideas of a pre-scientific culture. Of course, many who profess to practice yoga will naturally disagree with such a position, and they have a right to their opinion. However, the combination of rhythmic stretching and breathing, combined with methods of concentration, are natural goods which can help strengthen the body and mind that need not be tied to Hindu cosmology and theories of the body.
In terms of transcendental meditation, I would advise people to investigate contemplative prayer practices. Like yoga, transcendental meditation is a natural good that can be placed at the service of our relationship with the Lord. In my investigation of Buddhist and Hindu meditation, I have found that are many parallels with our Christian tradition. The difference between the two, and this is huge, is the person of Jesus Christ. Christians must practice authentic meditation as a means of drawing closer to the person of Jesus Christ. Without such an orientation, any practices we adopt may become forms which turn introspection and self-improvement into an idol.
Deacon Ian VanHeusen is studying to be a priest for the Diocese of Raleigh, NC. He blogs on prayer and meditation at www.contemplatio.us.
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