I have never come across Christians, who belonged to ‘The World Community for Christian Meditation Movement’, inspired by Fr John Main, who have not been thoroughly good people. They don’t just take the external practice of their faith seriously, but also put aside regular time for daily going into ‘the inner room’ to pray. I identified so closely with their personal sincerity and the sincerity of their search that I have until now found it difficult to make any criticism of them. Sadly they have been misled into thinking that methods of Eastern mysticism involving the continual repetition of mantras is not only in conformity with the Christian mystical tradition, but the high point at which Eastern and Western religion meet. However contemplative prayer is so important for the future reform in the Church, as it has been in the past that it must be protected from its counterfeit.
John Cassian is usually the person quoted to prove that Eastern and Western mysticism are ultimately one and the same. He was a priest born in the fourth century who spent 12 years mainly in Egypt, studying the teachings of the Desert Fathers. His copious writings had a profound influence, particularly on Irish and Benedictine monasticism. Now, because a tiny fraction of what he wrote about prayer and the spiritual life could be misinterpreted to make him seem to have used mantras, as used in the East, his status has been raised to enhance his authority. Many have been misled into believing that he is ‘St’ John Cassian, a title never given to him by the Church. Although he is generally orthodox and a valuable source of information about the Desert Fathers, he has, nevertheless, been explicitly cited for falling into the heresy of semi-Pelagianism. This is a heresy that leads people to believe that they can become the architects of their own perfection, and that contemplation, for instance, can be obtained by man-made means like mantras and other techniques, that have become so popular today. This is explicitly denied by the authentic Christian mystical tradition. If anyone wants to be guided by this tradition rather than by its counterfeit, then they must look in the first instance, to Jesus himself who never taught the use of mantras.
Jesus not only knew that he was filled by the Love of God, but he continually experienced it. It was this experience that was the source of his inner strength that transformed all he said and did. Later mystics used the word ‘contemplation’ in order to describe the psychological experience of feeling the divine life that he felt continually within him. They taught that this experience could be experienced by all Christians, who would embrace a prayer life similar to that of Jesus, combined with an ascetical life to purify them from the sins that never sullied him. This is the best possible way to receive, assimilate, and digest the same divine life that filled Jesus. St Thomas Aquinas explains this profound teaching in detail. Read what he has to say on prayer, read his clear definition and description of meditation and contemplation and his explanations of the ascetical preparations necessary to prepare to receive what finally comes as a gratuitous gift of God. No other theologian has been accepted so whole-heartedly by the Church as the voice of orthodoxy. Then read the writings of St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross, who were both made doctors of the Church for their unsurpassed exposition of Contemplative Prayer.
If you find the great spiritual Masters too daunting, read the works of the great Dominican theologian Garrigou-Lagrange. He has written a unique theological synthesis of the teaching of St Thomas, Saint Teresa, and St John of the Cross on prayer and the spiritual life. If you want to understand the tradition from a psychological point of view read the classic work ‘The Graces of Interior Prayer’ by the Jesuit master Pére Poulain.
Why look elsewhere and spend so much time looking for a sentence here or a sentence there in minor or questionable spiritual writers, to endorse an alien form of mysticism that has no more than a thin veneer of orthodoxy. Christianity is different to any other religion. Before the Incarnation, there was no way a person could enter into union with God. This is why the preparation for Christian Contemplation is to meditate, learning to love God through the person of Jesus Christ, as he once lived on earth. Love leads to the desire for union. As it is impossible to enter into communion with someone, who once lived on earth, Christian meditation leads into Christian Contemplation, or union with Christ as he is now, risen from the dead. It is here in Christian Contemplation that a person passes through Christ’s humanity into God’s divinity, where words become fewer and fewer. Words unite those who are separate from one another, but in perfect union there is a perfect silence of bliss.
I consider it my life’s work to re-state this profound tradition time and time again because it is desperately needed in the Church today. The sad thing is that the ‘mantra movement’ has been successful because people who are genuinely searching for a deeper prayer life, have found little help from the true tradition, and from those who should have been living it, and teaching it to them. Christianity is first and foremost a Mysticism not a Moralism. Without the same Love that Jesus experienced working in him we will not be able to do anything, let alone live out the teaching of the Gospel-“Without me you have no power to do anything”. If we do not choose to pray as Jesus did, then we will not receive the same Holy Spirit, who lived in him, throughout his life on earth, and raised him up to be glorified at the end of it. Only authentic Christian prayer opens us up to receive this Holy Spirit, who was sent to us all on the first Pentecost Day. Man-made methods and techniques may promise inner tranquillity for a time, but they do not allow the Holy Spirit to enter into us to transform us into the image and likeness of Christ. In fact they positively prevent his action, because they encourage a person to keep their minds and hearts so busy reciting mantras, that they never enter into the inner stillness, where the Holy Spirit is to be found making his home within us. If you spend all your time seeking spiritual ‘goodies’ for your own self-satisfaction you will never get them. Seek God alone and his kingdom of love and then, as promised, everything will be given to you.