Zen, Yoga, Science, and Catholic Faith?

Hi all. Tried asking this question in a variety of places, but could never get a firm answer - so here i go, its long so bear with me.

I’m sure everyone here knows all the flashing headlines about Yoga/Zen and Catholicism - so just wanted to clarify things.

From what i gather, there’s a bit of a spectrum as you got

Exorcist in England who says its opens you up to the demonic.

Our Holy Father who back in the late 90s, wrote a letter which essentially frowned on such practices (but without going so far as to say its demonic - perhaps “self absorbed” is the better tone)

And a bunch of inter-monastic dialog where you have Jesuits priests ending up as Zen Roshis as well.

To which i have to ask - IS there a consensus view on this matter?

Or is this one of this typical issues within the Church that is just not going to get resolved so long as it doesn’t become a large issue.

That’s part 1.

Part 2 - To throw an interesting twist into all this - I have a friend who is a devout Catholic but has taken up the field of neuroscience and neurology as his career.

Part of his research is into the psychological and physical benefits of meditation - of which he studies Buddhism.

Referring back to part 1 of this question - is he in violation of something? I mean, the guy told me straight he could care less about those who are meditating to “join with the Divine” or whatever - he just wants to create some Alpha waves and see what their effects are.

IE: Since Buddhism is part philosophy - part spirituality, coming from a very rational/technological background - his goal seems to be like “strip the spiritual, stick with the technique.”

I asked him why he didn’t bother doing this with say Lectio Divina or St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises and he gave a surprising tripartite answer:

1.) He thinks it would be sacrilegious to do so. I suppose this ties back to the whole “My Goal is Practical, not Spiritual.”

2.) Buddhists have been at this meditation thing a lot longer. They’ve also studied the workings of the mind and framed it in such a manner that gives a whole technical discipline to the modification of the mind.

So folks… what are your thoughts?

EDIT - I know someone here’s going to go say something to the effect about “temptations of the Devil.”

However, while i know jack about meditation and the mind, i do know a bit of History of Science.

It used to be the case that way way back when, lots of non-Christians in regions where we sent missionaries to used to be awed and amazed by our vast abilities in astronomy.

Jesuits, Franciscans, et al. used to teach astronomy and natural philosophy along with Catholic theology to these people as demonstrative proofs of our faith.

When the Enlightenment thinkers came along, they just could of gutted out that part about Theology and kept Astronomy.

And here it stands - Astronomy as a field continues as a science sans religious or spiritual connotations (to which people turn to astrology i suppose).

So if i understand him correctly - there’s a mind science and then there’s that science covered up by all this weird spiritualism. (Much like Astrology tries to interpret Astronomical results).

There is nothing else but the Catholic church.
period.

Cathdefender -

With all do respect, there’s a lot that isn’t within our Church.

There’s nations, political ideologies, races, weird bizzare post modern philosophies that make me sick, science, etc.

And what i’m asking is a question how we appropriately relate to such things…which you have deigned to respond to.

Or would you be a disciple of Tertullian and say “What is Athens to Jerusalem?”

Can you give me some examples so I can better understand? :slight_smile:

To condense all the whoohah i just said:

1.) There seems to be a tension within the Church over the whole Eastern Spirituality thing.

We have priests who say that its running us right to the Devil himself.
We have Theologians (of which our Current Pope is one) who are saying “We’ll - maybe not that far - but we think its pretty unhelpful.”

And we have Monks and Priests and whatnot running around taking things like Zen and Yoga, ripping out the Eastern part and sticking Christ in and saying “Eh it works…”

…and these three opinions are happening all at the same time.

Does the Church even have an official standpoint?

And if so, where the heck is the enforcment policy?

2.) My friend - the devout neuroscience Catholic, studies Buddhism to learn about meditation from a purely scientific perspective. He does so because the Buddhists have been studying the Mind longer than anyone else (whereas, for instance, the Church used to be pre-eminent in Physics).

Is he crossing some sort of “no no” sacrilegious boundary for doing so? His goal isn’t to some weird funky New Age “United with God” schtick. He could care less about Reincarnation, or whatnot.

What he’s interested in is the HARD science aspect of meditation - what parts of the brain are set off by it, how it effects the Right side of the Brain - how it decreases blood pressure etc.

I asked him why he didn’t bother doing this with Christian meditation like Lectio Divina - and he thought it would be sacrilegious to do so.

IE: To paraphrase “The last thing i want to do is end up downgrading Christian spirituality. From my perspective, i’m just doing what Enlightenment scientists did to Natural Philosophy - gutting it of all spiritual connotations and letting it sit as an independent body of knowledge - what we call Science.”

Alopen, why do you even stress over this?

“All men by nature desire to know”
-Aristotle

“Wonder is the desire for knowledge.”
-Thomas Aquinas

After all CathDefender - is it so unreasonable to ask for an official answer?

And Cath - refer to SuperGrover’s “STOP THE YOGA” thread - i’m hardly the only person concerned.

Alopen,
I just posted a thread that raises some of the same questions, but is more focused on why pastors let this syncretism into their own parishes. Given some similarities, I’ll plug your thread on my post. You want to know about “official” Church positions. Actually, I have two Vatican documents posted that touch on your questions. The one of most interest to you is probably this one from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under then-Cardinal Ratizinger:

ewtn.com/library/curia/cdfmed.htm

Of some interest might be joint statement of different councils regarding “New Age” stuff, which of course involves all kinds of pseudo-Eastern practices and beliefs.

vatican.va/roman_curia/po…ew-age_en.html

Hope that helps a little on the question of “official” position. A phenomenon that you will often see is that, if the Church comes out and actually sounds a word of caution on an issue, some people will then seize upon what WASN’T said, as if it’s some kind of license. (“Well, Ratzinger spoke about this and he didn’t say we CAN’T turn our monastery into an ashram”).

Here’s my link forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=245274

I’ll post your link on my thread .

Alopen, I share your concern for these practices.

The priest where I go to daily Mass is a convert from Buddhism. He very strongly opposes all types of “Eastern spirituality”.

New Age stuff is not good. While I think most of it is hogwash, some of it, I think, can leave a person open to diabolical influences, or worse.

rpp, I agree with you. But can you provide sources that support your belief about these practices leaving one open to diabolical influence?

That’s the part i’m having a wee bit trouble believing.

I mean, its not like you see Pope Benedict calling this a crisis and saying “PURGE PURGE!”

Reduce the contents of his letter and you get something more like “It gets in the way of our spirituality.”

For you maybe, but not for the other 5.5 billion non-Catholics on the planet…remember that. :thumbsup:

But “It gets in the way of our spirituality” is a huge statement in cleric-speak. And while it is a growing problem, it is not a “crisis” yet, at least I don’t think it is. The Church is not always good at heading problems off at the pass, either. So, if it ever gets to be a huge problem, you may hear an earthshakingly strong statement – like “this is not to be encouraged.”

Here’s an analogy. The church tells you not to play with Ouija boards, but you don’t hear it being screamed from the roof tops. But if you ever talked to someone who has used one, they will probably tell you terrible stories of what they were told, or what happened. In other words, simply taking this silly little board game, and with seemingly innocuous curiosity. People will tell you that they are convinced that they communed with demons. Well, some of these other practices have multiple “gods,” some of which may be imaginary. But, some commentators have speculated that some of these “gods” are actually demons. So, you engage in this practice with centuries of tradition, potentially tied up in something diabolical. You approach it in good faith, maybe a little curious, no evil intent, but you can still open yourself up to trouble.

But what if you throw a Christian layer over it, or take a little away here, throw a little Christianity in there, then what do you have? Something completely safe? Maybe, maybe not.

Is it necessary to muck up your Catholicism with this stuff? Does it advance anything? Are we better off in the lotus position than the Catholic alternatives?

I think there are aspects of Carmelite spirituality that involve meditation; I remember that, I guess you would call him now, former Father Francis Mary Stone, had a group of Carmelite Nuns on Life On The Rock (LOTR) shortly after the time JPII the Great passed away.

But I don’t know much about it, because that was really the only time I heard about it. It was a combination of prayer and meditation, and I think was based on the writings of Teresa of Avila (She wrote something called “The Castle” or something like that) who founded the Carmelite Order.

However, I think your friend who is studying Buddhism by practicing the religion to see what the health benefits are is going too far.

Besides, he doesn’t have to practice it himself.

He can read scientific studies about it, and I remember on Canadian TV on David Suzuki’s Nature of Things had a program about Buddhism and its health benefits.

It may have been a show called The Human Body on CBC hosted by Mr. Suzuki.

Anyway, scientific studies have already been completed on this topic and published, so you don’t have to practice the religion itself
to determine the health benefits.

If your willing to spend a little money, you may still be able to order the LOTR program by calling EWTN’s catalogue and they maybe able to track down the program.

Also, you might want to visit the CBC’s website.

And you can always Google about these subjects.

You also have to understand that Buddhism is often regarded as a secular religion by secularists seeking some sort of spirituality.

Thus, Buddhism is portrayed favorably in our news media, movies, at schools and universities, as is yoga, Zen, and other Eastern forms of spirituality.

Maybe that is why the scientists choose to study it, I speculate.

Here’s an analogy. The church tells you not to play with Ouija boards, but you don’t hear it being screamed from the roof tops. But if you ever talked to someone who has used one, they will probably tell you terrible stories of what they were told, or what happened. In other words, simply taking this silly little board game, and with seemingly innocuous curiosity. People will tell you that they are convinced that they communed with demons. Well, some of these other practices have multiple “gods,” some of which may be imaginary. But, some commentators have speculated that some of these “gods” are actually demons. So, you engage in this practice with centuries of tradition, potentially tied up in something diabolical. You approach it in good faith, maybe a little curious, no evil intent, but you can still open yourself up to trouble.

Here’s my problem with that - it seems to imply that every silly little superstition is somehow tied to demonic forces.

And, at least amongst the professional exorcist accounts i’ve read - there’s a lot of “false alarms.”

It behooves us not to assume that the person in your example was talking to “gods” - rather it could be the person’s imagination or a form of psychosis.

We go the other way and we fall down the slope some evangelical sects have done - snake charming, faith healing, and other ridiculousness.

But what if you throw a Christian layer over it, or take a little away here, throw a little Christianity in there, then what do you have? Something completely safe? Maybe, maybe not.

That’s the bigger problem in theological and faith terms.

I don’t see the Devil hiding around every corner - what i do see is what the Pope sees - an accidental re-centering of the focus of worship.

Furthermore, we have Science weighing in saying that the meditative states do in fact have physiological effects.

So take my example: Most people who exercise for a very long time feel good. Burst of energy, fitness, etc. We don’t mistake that phenomena for contacting God.

If meditation is merely mental stimulation, a training of the mind, why should we be held to the idea that it has anything to do with spirituality?

What, just because the tradition it grew out of said it was spiritual?

Well problem 1 - you don’t get funding or write papers on other peoples work - you do your own.

The other problem - is he practicing religion or is he practicing meditation?

From the perspectives of the Buddhists i’ve talked to - he’s not.

By completely ignoring the spiritual basis - he’s kind of unfortunately slapped them in the face.

Well perhaps that’s a bit harsh. But think of it this way, from their perspective you meditate in order to reach some sort of higher plain of existence right - no more reincarantion blah blah blah.

From the Neuroscientist perspective its “Hey, these folks accidentally came up with a bunch of mental techniques that can help rewire the brain. Let’s ignore all the ******** about walking the Path of Buddha or Reincarnation and just take the techniques.”

Its not like this hasn’t been done before. Look at the history of our own Church. We’re maligned for getting in the way of scientific progress - they see only witch burnings and hysteria.

And any theological signficance we placed on the natural world, they poo pooed that and said “Let’s ditch the Theology and keep the methods.”

And lo and behold, Modern Science is born.

You also have to understand that Buddhism is often regarded as a secular religion by secularists seeking some sort of spirituality.

LOL, i know. It actually gets the goat of all those Buddhists who happen to actually believe in Reincarnation, Multiple Buddhas, etc.

For instance, you never hear the Western media praise Pure Land Buddhism. PL is like 1/3rd of the Buddhists in the world, and it runs pretty much like a religion that we’re familiar with.

They pray to a Buddha. Not honor him, not think of him as a cool dude to emulate - nope they pray. They even call themselves a Church of sorts.

Secularists HATE that. So they ignore that type of Buddhism and call it a degeneration.

Whereas something like Zen (Where you don’t worship anything, treat Buddha pretty much like your Treat Socrates - ie: Just a smart and enlightened dude) is the cat’s meow with them.

So Zen to them is “True Buddhism” while the Pure Landers are , well to put bluntly, “As superstitious as those Christians.”

Convenient don’t you think?

The purpose of my post was to respond to your statement that you have a hard time believing in the potential for diabolical problems. The greatest problem is probably not the problem of diabolical forces. Rather, it is a focus that is incompatible with Catholic spirituality. These various other traditions and practices focus on channeling energies, or obliterating the ego to attain oneness with an impersonal universe, and detachment that is not the kind of detachment that we are called to. Our suppression or mortification of self, our detachment, is to allow a fuller union with a personal God, an Other.

Sure, the devil is not tied to every superstition or hiding around every corner. I am not well read on demonology or anything like that because it does not interest me as much as the positive side of things. But the devil is real, and I know enough to know that people do encounter these problems without wanting to. And there are plenty of accounts of problems with Reiki, Yoga, etc. Is it psychoses? Some, maybe even most. But all? I don’t know. Maybe you don’t believe the Ouija board example, but many do. And if a silly piece of cardboard can bring you problems, think about employing meditative practices from a tradition with 30,000 “gods.”

And I agree with you on the charismatic weirdness.

As for whether any meditative practice is bad, I don’t know. Athletes and martial artists often use a form of “meditation” where they picture the physical movements that they will make and rehearse it in their mind (I can’t remember the term) with good results, and it’s hard to believe that there’s anything wrong with that. I just don’t want to see New Age junk, Eastern mysticism, etc. supplanting or overlaying good Catholic spirituality in our Churches.

Again, the fundamental point is why play with these other traditions when they are, at best, less beneficial than Catholic spirituality, and at worst, something much worse. Do some Catholics have an inferiority complex about what their own Faith offers? Is it chic to say you are incorporating Buddhist or Hindu practices? Is it ignorance of our own mystics and their teachings? Is it because it’s a lot easier to achieve a sense of well being through these mental and physical techniques than to fulfill what seems to be the prerequisite for mystic experience in Catholicism – a very virtuous life?

Sure, the devil is not tied to every superstition or hiding around every corner. I am not well read on demonology or anything like that because it does not interest me as much as the positive side of things. But the devil is real, and I know enough to know that people do encounter these problems without wanting to. And there are plenty of accounts of problems with Reiki, Yoga, etc. Is it psychoses? Some, maybe even most. But all? I don’t know. Maybe you don’t believe the Ouija board example, but many do. And if a silly piece of cardboard can bring you problems, think about employing meditative practices from a tradition with 30,000 “gods.”

I didn’t mean to imply that you thought diabolical forces were are major concern.

I’m just…very wary of making a mistake. Despite the fact that we’re branded as some sort of crazed witch-hunting sect, history seems to forget we rarely condemned people for “witchcraft.”

For political (unfortunately) and heretical purposes - yes.

But even Grand Inquisitors in the pass let people off the hook - even the politically driven Spanish Inquisition - the person was deemed to have some sort of “brain fever” or malady.

And i really don’t want to see another Annelise Michel situation.

Again, the fundamental point is why play with these other traditions when they are, at best, less beneficial than Catholic spirituality, and at worst, something much worse. Do some Catholics have an inferiority complex about what their own Faith offers? Is it chic to say you are incorporating Buddhist or Hindu practices? Is it ignorance of our own mystics and their teachings? Is it because it’s a lot easier to achieve a sense of well being through these mental and physical techniques than to fulfill what seems to be the prerequisite for mystic experience in Catholicism – a very virtuous life?

Agreed.

Part of this is mass ignorance. I mean, the Church during its darkest phases were never so hot on mystics - feared that it would disrupt the hierarchy i suppose.

Heck - look what they did to Padre Pio!

From my perspective, i think those people who fall into Eastern Mysticism fall into a dual trap.

From the physical side they get all those endorphins and adrenalin running and they think to themselves “Hey, this feels nice.”

Then they get the Mystical Philosophy part and they equate the two.

I Feel Good + They Say this is the Reason I Feel Good = GO Buddha/Brahama/Whatever.

And we lose.

Because “Brain Exercise” is a LOT easier to achieve than a mystical experience with God.

Absolutely. I see that you have a nuanced and balanced appreciation of the problem itself, and the potential pitfalls in how we address the problem. I wish more did.

We have to be careful - to just kinda give a blanket statement and I dunno, quash any sense of mysticism - we’ll lose.

We’ll lose big - because we wouldn’t be addressing the problem at all.

We shouldn’t be alarmed by people wanting to do this type of thing, it only shows that they are seeking a closer relationship with our Heavenly Father.

And as a Church, i feel we should really be educating and providing for these peoples needs. Otherwise, we are breaking our bonds with them.

We’re at fault, not them.

I mean - St. Ignatius’s folk didn’t go to Japan to learn Buddhism, they went their to convert people.

But as we both know, Ignatian spirituality is pretty deep and rather intensive. I mean, have you read the Spiritual Exercises? The Chanting Mumbo Jumbo is a SO Much easier.

But who has heard of them? Or the Desert Fathers like John Cassian? Or the meditations of St. Francis? I mean, the list goes on and on and on.

Spirituality has always been with the Church, but is a neglected tradition.

In truth, had we been more conscientious about all this, we WOULDN’T have this problem at all.

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