Is Mindfulness Christian?

Many efforts have been made to reconcile Mindfulness with Christian belief and prayer; however these are at root opposed to one another, with radically different understandings of God, the world and the human person.

In his article “Is ‘Mindfulness’ Christian?,” Ian Paul, an Anglican minister, enthusiastically reviews the booklet written by fellow Anglican cleric, Tim Stead, Mindfulness and Prayer, in the Grove Spirituality series.[1] Stead devotes his booklet and much of his ministry to normalizing for Christians the Buddhist technique of spirituality, namely Mindfulness. To his own question about the Christian nature of Mindfulness, Ian Paul enthusiastically answers, “yes.”

Rev. Paul assures us that the values of Mindfulness are found in the Bible. He claims that the deep thinking found in Mindfulness is exactly what the prodigal son does. He ‘comes to his senses.’ “Paying attention is simply a skill which needs practicing.” He assures us that we must not fear Mindfulness, for it is now found in the mainstream clinical and psychological contexts – though to think such fields are neutral is surely a mistake. Finally we should, says Paul, “note how similar some of the techniques of Mindfulness are to those suggested by the great mystics who have explored contemplative forms of prayer. My own inspirations have been Teresa of Avila and the Eastern Orthodox Jesus Prayer tradition.”

Unfortunately for Rev. Paul, it can be shown that those medieval mystics and their spiritual techniques were dangerously heretical, adopting a similar Buddhist form of contemplative spirituality, namely nondual neo-Platonism — so more is going on, but that is another, long story.[2] He assures us, however, that Mindfulness is a totally harmless technique for slowing down to a state of lucidity in order to enter into God’s presence in prayer.

In considering Mindfulness, we must not be ignorant of what has transpired in Western history since the 1960s — to which not enough mindful attention is paid. Many Westerners have turned to Eastern meditation, including, in particular, yoga, which is a subtle but clear introduction to Hindu spirituality. So in the West, yoga (Hinduism) gives us healthy bodies; Mindfulness (Buddhism) gives us sound minds.

But are we in the church, like Westerners in general, being captivated by alien spiritual influences? Philip Goldberg says yes. In his important book, American Veda: How Indian Spirituality Changed the West, in light of the great success of yoga and Mindfulness, he concludes that Americans (and we can include the West in general) have been deeply brainwashed. [3] In Canada, Mindfulness or MindUP, is imposed upon children in state schools as normative practice, without parental permission.[4] So the West has bought into the Indian worldview philosophy of Advaita meaning “not two.” “Non-duality,” or Oneism, for those of you who are new to me.

According to this notion of existence all duality is erased and oneness rules. Goldberg, who is convinced this is a good thing, is surely on to something, since we in today’s world observe the constant and determined eradication of the “binary,” or twoness, especially in the area of sexuality and spirituality. Our world is seduced by the utopian idealism of oneness or unity, both politically and religiously.

Behind these Eastern spiritual techniques is a Oneist worldview in conflict with biblical spirituality, which I call Twoism. Twoism is the biblical insistence on the existence of distinctions — good and evil, true and false, male and female, God and creation. The Eastern worldview claims that in “going within” we find our inner divinity, and so our problem is not sin but ignorance. We are ignorant of the god within, the god we actually all possess. God is not separate from us, He is within us. We are god. So this Eastern worldview advocates spiritual meditation and altered forms of consciousness to focus on the self, precisely to gain gnosis, knowledge of the god within. There is no distinction from God; we are god. So we should ask the important question: can these methods, yoga and Mindfulness, that were born in Eastern Oneism, be scrubbed of their religious content? Maybe, maybe not.

In its essence Mindfulness is a Buddhist concept and practice, not at all neutral, that has a profound religious goal. As Marcia Montenegro, my friend and once a practicing Buddhist, describes,

It is an outlook on life and reality that ideally results from a type of meditation designed to cultivate detachment. Detachment in Buddhism is necessary, because Buddhism teaches that attachment to this world, to your thinking, to your identity as an individual self, and other attachments, such as desires, keep you in the cycle of rebirth…. Mindfulness is often defined as a moment-by-moment nonjudgmental awareness of the present.[5]

In a subtle way this seemingly harmless stress-relieving technique promotes “detachment” of the self from created reality marked by the past and present, and by issues of good and evil and thus detachment from the Creator behind it. It is like telling a fish to detach itself from the reality of water. Doing so has consequences. It has been shown that these Eastern practices over time do bring people finally to accept Eastern worldviews. Its goal is a particular spiritual experience, “a state of blissful perception that a Unitive Void is the highest reality beyond the illusion of material existence.”[6]

 If this is not happening in the practice of “Christian” Mindfulness, why call it Mindfulness, especially since in contemporary Mindfulness these notions of creational reality and moral responsibility, as we have noted, are eliminated from the stress equation? If this is not happening in so-called “Christian Mindfulness,” why not, to avoid all confusion, call it biblical meditation and self-examination, as the Puritans did? Full-on Buddhist Mindfulness seeks ultimate liberation from the life-cycle of human earthly existence by “detachment,” by denying one’s creatureliness and becoming a bodiless, timeless, amoral spirit.

Does the practice of Mindfulness stress release begin for contemporary Westerners the tempting process of opening the mind to Eastern thinking, to an ultimate godless solution of creation-denying self-liberation, producing a soul-destroying false peace? Do Christians begin to be tempted to think that interfaith is the right thing for the church since, it is claimed, all religions practice a similar form of spirituality at the end of the day? Jon Kabat-Zinn, the Zen Buddhist professor of medicine, who has popularized the use of Mindfulness in the medical field, sees it as neutral system, usable in all religions. He notes that rabbis, priests and imams have used Mindfulness, and that it deepened their experience of their own faiths.[7] He does not say how much it radically changed their views of their own faiths.

Instead of this stress-reducing “mindlessness,” we need the reassuring presence of our Savior, Jesus Christ who takes away our genuine guilt and gives us real spiritual stress relief — but only by thinking of our sin and his righteousness. We need the mind of Christ. The prodigal son “came to himself” by coming to the realization that he was a sinner, and then he began to long for the joys of reconciliation with a loving Father. His stress departed in the full embrace of his father, not meditating in the pig sty, and this is true for all believers. Was Jesus practicing Mindfulness at crucial moments in his life, as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane or as he stood before Pilate? The peace of Christ comes through the objective redemptive work of Christ, who faced evil in our place. Another Paul assures us: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Christian, if this does not relieve your stress, nothing will.

 


[1] Ian Paul, “Is ‘Mindfulness’ Christian?” Psephizo, last modified October 7 2016, http://www.psephizo.com/life-ministry/is-mindfulness-christian/.

[2] See Pam Frost, “The Interface of Medieval Mysticism and Buddhist Mindfulness Meditation,” truthXchange, October 24 2016, https://truthxchange.com/2016/10/the-interface-of-medieval-mysticism-and-buddhist-mindfulness-meditation/.

[3] Philip Goldberg, American Veda: from Emerson and the Beatles to yoga and meditation : how Indian spirituality changed the West (New York: Harmony Books, 2010).

[4] Heather Johnson and Saleem Haniff, Cildren and youth mental health and well-being strategy, (Toronto: Toronto District School Board), May 19 2015, http://www.tdsb.on.ca/Portals/ward15/docs/Ward%20Council/Ward%2015%20Meeting%20FINAL%20May%2019%20%2015%20MentalHealth%20(3).pdf.

[5] Marcia Montenegro, “Mindfulness: No-mind over matter,” Christian Answers for the New Age, last modified November 2010, http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_Mindfulness.html.

[6] Frost, “The Interface.”

[7] See Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever you go, there you are (New York: Hyperion, 1994).