Monday, February 7, 2011

Mantra Madness

    It truly is madness if you think about the great effort of some who try to take a Byzantine Christian tradition and make into a universal practice found in many world religions. For instance, just put “Jesus Prayer” and “mantra” in your search engine and you will find all kinds of strange stuff. The amount of material out there demonstrates great acts of ignorance for some but for others the work of the devil. The devil knows if he can eliminate the personal revelation of God in the Jesus Prayer by making it a universal tool it will have no power. This is what we see in the work of those who make the traditional use of the Jesus Prayer  just one of the many ways to find personal peace, harmony, bliss, or whatever else they call it. I would state that I am by no means against seeking peace or non-Christians practicing prayer. Rather, it’s the philosophy of relativism that in this case changes the meaning of the Jesus Prayer. All prayer traditions are not the same and there is little compatibility with the tradition of the Jesus Prayer and those groups that seek to turn it into a universal mantra.
     In the true tradition of using the Jesus Prayer, which is called Hesychasm in the Byzantine Christian tradition, we find the human condition in need of healing because of sin. This foundation is something not always associated with those who consider the prayer a mantra. Most often you will find such people encouraging its use as means to enter into a state of mind or a way to tune into a spiritual reality. Consequently, you will find little if any understanding of sin and the need for repentance. However, the Jesus Prayer in Hesychasm is more then a mere technique and it is unthinkable to separate the prayer from a life of continual repentance. Even in those practices in Hesychasm that are used to prove that the prayer is a mantra, such as fasting, controlled breathing or repetition, we find them always associated as ways of repentance.
     At its core the Jesus Prayer can never be a mantra for it is way to establish communion with God. Its through the invocation of the person of Christ (Rom. 10:13) that the prayer reestablishes and renews our relationship with God. In the deepest sense the prayer is an action of imploring God’s mercy through Jesus Christ by personal repentance. As a result, you can’t take the person of Jesus Christ out of the prayer as some try to do by making it a mantra. Neither can your remove the reality that it is a means of personal communication. Unlike those that seek to use it to enter into states or realities there is no guarantee of such experiences in the tradition of Hesychasm. There is only the truth that you are communicating with the way, the truth and the life, and the only way to the true God(John 14:6).
     To be fair to those historical prayer traditions, such as in Hinduism, that use mantras we can say that Hesychasm finishes up where they leave off. Learning to focus with the aid of a mantra has many beneficial effects for the body and mind. This has been proven to be not only a religious truth but a scientific fact. The benefits allow for a certain sense of peace which in turn can cause a person to contribute more effectively to their environment, which doesn't always have to be strictly religious. This experience could be said to be akin to what the Byzantine tradition calls watchfulness (nepsis). Also, it is here we can say that the tradition of Hesychasm completes their experience because in this state of watchfulness more attention is given to the person of Jesus Christ. In continuing where other traditions leave off the tradition of Hesychasm demonstrates the goal of the prayer is always oriented toward the person of Jesus Christ and does not end in any psychosomatic experience.
     For those that are seeking to popularize the Jesus Prayer as a universal mantra the bottom line is that the words you use wont matter. By separating the prayer from its traditional use you have nothing more then a mere tool. A tool  that tends to focus on an experience rather then a person. There might be peaceful feelings involved in repeating a formula or a prayer but the truth is God can’t be manipulated. This is where we find the distinguishing mark in the tradition of Hesychasm as compared to the mantra groups. In calling upon the person of Jesus Christ a person must also live a life pleasing to Jesus Christ. God is a person and loving Him by following the teachings of Jesus Christ is what the Jesus Prayer is based on. To remove these unique aspects that involve the Jesus Prayer is to make it into something it’s not.

1 comment:

  1. Well said.

    It has not helped that certain movements have adopted the usage of eastern non-christian religions, which is to say they misuse terms such as meditation and contemplation. In my experience with TM, which I practiced for six years and have long since abandoned, meditation refers to something quite different than what it means in Lectio Divina, for example. John Main (Christian Meditation) and Thomas Keating (Centering Prayer) have acknowledged a direct influence of TM and other non-christian mantric traditions. By adopting a non-christian adaptation of christian usage, they have contributed to watering down christian vocabulary that has led to confusion and an obfuscation of the true nature of christian prayer.