We live in an exciting age, when the teachings of the great world religions and wisdom traditions are available to all in books, through teachers or the Internet.
This allows an opening of our consciousness to a wider human spirituality. All main religions have many correspondences; in fact there is a common core at the heart of their individual traditions. Gottfried Leibnitz, the 17th century German philosopher and later Aldous Huxley in the 20th century referred to this as the ‘Perennial Philosophy’. Because of this many elements in the literature or in the words of teachers in other traditions will resonate with us. This can have two effects: it can deepen and enrich the understanding of our own tradition, but it also carries the danger with it of us becoming spiritual butterflies, taking nectar from many different sources and yet not really being able to digest the many rich ideas to nurture our spiritual being.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama stressed at one of his big gatherings in Bodh Gaya, which Laurence Freeman and some of us attended as part of a whole programme of the ‘Way of Peace’ interfaith dialogue of our Community with His Holiness, that it was important to return to one’s own roots, as all religious traditions shared the same core truth. To illustrate this, he invited Laurence Freeman to share the platform with him as an example that this truth was also in Christianity. He has since then often brought up this same point at many of his international talks. Although we may reject the belief structure of the religion of our parents, we are still rooted in the culture and ideas that have grown out of it.
Meditation, as Laurence Freeman says in ‘Jesus, the Teacher Within’, “is a way of silence and self-transcendence, a way of relationship and solitude, a way to read without words, to know without thought.” The transcendence of the ego is not dependent on a belief structure but on faith. This loving trusting faith/relationship allows us to leave our ego-consciousness behind and connect in our case to the consciousness of Christ, as “Meditation, in the light of the Christian faith, is a deepening encounter with the mind of Christ.” The first statement will apply to all the different ways of meditation but the relationship/faith element will be different for each. We connect with our true self in Christ and a Buddhist will connect with his Buddha nature.
John Main, as quoted by Laurence Freeman in ‘First Sight’ – his exploration of the experience of faith –, says that meditation is a ‘way of faith’, as “We have to leave ourselves behind before the other appears and without the pre-packaged guarantee that the other will appear.” (Word into Silence’) It is our faith that Christ is there to guide us that allows us to take the risk to enter the silence of our wider consciousness. Without a relationship with Christ or an enlightened being like the Buddha, we may well enter the silence but may be cast adrift in our own unconscious with all the danger that implies.
Meditation in the Christian Tradition
Laurence Freeman OSB
Director, The World Community for Christian Meditation
Meditation is a universal spiritual wisdom that leads in silence, stillness and simplicity from the mind to the heart. It has many expressions and names. In the Christian tradition it is also called prayer of the heart or contemplative prayer.
The practical way of meditation taught by John Main is the faithful repetition of a prayer phrase or ‘mantra’ as it is often called today. He discovered this way of prayer in the teachings of the early Christian monks, the desert fathers and mothers. In the fourth century, they retired mainly to the deserts of Egypt to live an authentic Christian life based directly on the gospel teaching of Jesus. Prayer – pure prayer as they called meditation – was central to their vision of Christian discipleship.
Be still, and know that I am God. ~ Psalm 46:10
Returning to our centre, discovering our own centre, is the first
task and the first responsibility of every life that is to become
fully human. In the discipline of meditation, you will discover
from your own experience that to be at one with our own centre
means to be at one with every centre. What we learn in
meditation is that to be in our own centre is to be in God.
~ John Main OSB Moment of Christ
The prayer-phrase John Main recommended is ‘Maranatha’. He chose this word because it is the oldest Christian prayer in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. Moreover, the word has no associations for us, so it won’t give fuel to our mind eager to go on thinking. The faithful and loving repetition of this prayer leads us to stillness of body and mind and helps us to enter the
silence that dwells in the centre of our being. The famous fourteenth-century mystic Meister Eckhart said, “Nothing is so much like God as silence.” In Christian faith there in the silence of the true centre of our being dwells Christ, and there we enter the prayer of Jesus. In the context of Christian faith, John Main describes the mystery as follows:
From The Contemplative Dimension of Faith
7- 8 January 2012
Catholic Junior College, Singapore