Why are Mennonite pastors, students and missionaries being taught to sit comfortably repeating a word quietly for 20 minutes?

Not only are the roots of contemplative spirituality from Roman Catholic sources. The methods of this ancient new Christianized spirituality also draw from other religions.

As a review, take a look at the following Silent Prayer exercise that Christian pastors, leaders, students and missionaries are being taught to do when they attend a prayer retreat at the contemplative Mark Centre in Abbotsford, B.C. (affiliated with the BC MB Conference).

Practice

• Find a quiet place and sit comfortably.
• Review scriptures that invite you to silence before God.
• Choose a meaningful word/phrase that helps you focus on God. (For example, “ABBA Father” or “Creator”)
• Be absolutely still and quiet, focusing on the presence of God.
• As thoughts and concerns come to mind, let them go by mentally reciting your word/phrase.
• Perhaps picture the thoughts/concerns floating by like boats in a river. As they go by, you don’t stop them and analyze them, you simply release them to keep floating down the river.
• Continue this process for about 20 minutes. End with a prayer.

SOURCE: http://www.markcentre.org/ListeningTools/SilentPrayer.html

But is this a biblical way to pray?

Please examine the following and decide for yourself.

THE MANTRA

As quoted above, the facilitators at this Christian retreat centre want you to sit comfortably, choose a meaningful word/phrase that helps you focus on God (like “ABBA Father” or “Creator”), and let all thoughts go while reciting your word/phrase for 20 minutes.

What they are teaching Christians to use is a mantra. Just because the Mark Centre website does not use this word, it is still a Mantra. This is used in Hinduism and means a word or formula repeated, chanted or sung as an incantation or prayer (see What Is a Mantra and How Does It Work).

Compare the meditation techniques used at the Mark Centre with the mantra meditation technique of transcendental meditation:

Transcendental Meditation

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Transcendental Meditation (TM) refers to the Transcendental Meditation technique,[1] a specific form of mantra meditation, and to the Transcendental Meditation movement, a spiritual movement.[2][3] The TM technique and TM movement were introduced in India in the mid-1950s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1914–2008) and had reached global proportions by the 1960s.
The TM technique came out of and is based on Indian philosophy and the teachings of Krishna, the Buddha, and Shankara, as well as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,[4] and is a version of a technique passed down from the Maharishi’s teacher, Guru Dev (Brahmananda Saraswati). The Maharishi also developed the Science of Creative Intelligence (SCI), a system of theoretical principles to underlie this meditation technique. Additional technologies were added to the Transcendental Meditation program, including “advanced techniques” such as the TM-Sidhi program (Yogic Flying).
TM is one of the most widely practiced, and among the most widely researched meditation techniques.[5][6][7][8] Independently[9] done systematic reviews have not found health benefits for TM beyond relaxation or health education.[10][11][12] (…)

Technique

The Transcendental Meditation technique is a form of mantra meditation that, according to the TM organization, is effortless when used properly. The mantra sound is utilized as a thought in the meditation process,[23] and as a vehicle that allows the individual’s attention to travel naturally to a less active, quieter style of mental functioning.[23][24] The technique is practiced morning and evening for 15–20 minutes each time.[25][26]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcendental_Meditation

TM has become increasingly popular in America since Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduced it to the west. It is now being promoted as a stress reliever to our busy society.

Meditating for just 20 minutes a day for five days helped to increase energy and decrease anxiety and stress, as measured by levels of stress hormones . . .”
– USA Today
-http://deep-zen.com/index-w.html

An important part of this stress relieving technique is the mantra:

TM is one of the easiest meditation techniques to learn. When you learn TM, an instructor gives you a word or phrase-your personal mantra-which you promise not to divulge. You are told to sit quietly with your eyes closed and repeat the mantra over and over again for 20 minutes at a time once or twice a day.

The mantra functions to focus your mind on a single idea, representing the “oneness” of the universe. You’re instructed to assume a passive, accepting attitude while repeating your mantra. When distracting thoughts intrude, you’re instructed to simply observe them, accept them and gently return your mental focus to repeating your mantra.
-http://1stholistic.com/meditation/hol_meditation_TM.htm

Regarding the use of a repetitive word in Mantra Meditation in Hindu and Buddhist tradition, another website says that

“a mantra is a cross between a poem and a magical incantation, and is used to protect the mind while providing physical, mental, and spiritual healing. It is believed that the sound vibrations from the mantra invoke spiritual forces and strengthens areas of a person’s chakra.

The use of mantras or chants has been used in pagan rituals and religious customs for centuries. It is believed that mantra meditation was first started in India, and was first mentioned in the Vedas, or Hindu scriptures. In meditation, mantras give the mind a focus point, something to meditate on. Mantras can be said out loud, silently, or even just thought during meditation. Traditionally, a person’s personal mantra would be given to them by a guru, and based on their personal needs, but there also several books and websites that can help a person to pick out a mantra on their own.
Mantra meditation is not difficult to learn. All you need is a quiet and comfortable place to sit, and some spare time. Pick a word, sound, or phrase that is soothing to you. It can be something as simple as “Om” or “calm,” or something longer and more complicated if you wish. Sit in your chosen place, close your eyes, and repeat your mantra to yourself, over an over for several minutes.
It is completely normal for your mind to wander during mantra meditation. If you notice that your mind has wandered, redirect it back to your mantra. You can move, scratching an itch or readjusting your position, if you need to. It is recommended that meditation is done once or twice a day for up to 20 minutes.
There are several benefits to practicing mantra meditation. It can relieve stress and anxiety, and allow a person to recharge without taking a nap or drinking a caffeinated beverage. It lowers both the heart rate and blood pressure, and a person’s levels of cortisol, which causes stressful feelings, stays low for hours after meditation. Studies have shown that mantra meditation can improve immunity and decrease a person’s risk for heart conditions. Meditation also invokes a feeling of mindfulness, leaving you feeling alert after a meditation system.”

What is Mantra Meditation?
http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-mantra-meditation.htm

20 MINUTES

The Mark Centre says to repeat a word in a comfortable quiet place, and to “Continue this process for about 20 minutes.” Whether it’s TM, zen, or yoga, meditation instructions always say that the amount of time needed for this daily discipline is always 20 minutes:

Transcendental meditation was introduced to the western world by a guru named Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1958. It is extremely simple to learn and practise, yet it will bring immense practical benefit to all areas of life. Of all the different types of meditation, this particular technique gives a unique quality of rest to the mind and body, releasing stress and tiredness in a very natural way. Transcendental Meditation is a very practical and simple form of reaching a state of rumination and suitable to all people, especially those who find it difficult to set aside time, as some techniques may require an hour plus to practice. 15-20 minutes twice daily sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. This may even be done on the bus, train, lunch hour, essentially anywhere that is safe for you to sit with eyes closed for those 15-20 minutes.

-http://www.project-meditation.org/a_mt4/different_types_of_meditation.html

And here:

The Transcendental Meditation program is a simple, natural, effortless technique practiced for 15-20 minutes in the morning and evening while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. During the TM technique the individual’s awareness settles down and experiences a unique state of restful alertness: as the body becomes deeply relaxed, the mind transcends all mental activity to experience the simplest form of human awareness — Transcendental Consciousness — where consciousness is open to itself.

http://www.maharishi-medical.com/tm/index.html

Why is 20 minutes always the norm in TM, yoga and zen mediation? One Zen teacher and yoga expert tells us:

There are many schools of meditation, each with their own techniques and methods.

Here, we are referring to the meditations that are done being mostly physically still. So this would include zen meditation (zazen), vipassana, insight meditation, jyana yoga, the Silent Mind (SM) Meditations, and meditations that utilize an object for concentration (3rd eye meditation, mantra meditation, visualization, sound, trataka (candle flame gazing), 3 step rhythmic breath (3srb) meditation or similar variation of breath meditation, etc).

The other types of meditations involving dance (shiva tandava – dance of death), Osho’s meditations (kundalini, dynamic, etc), laya yoga meditations, and other such meditations have specific time requirements to work their magic and I am not referring to them in this discussion. So, now on to the numbers.

The minimum time one should aim to set aside for daily meditation is 20 minutes. Why 20 minutes of meditation? From my experience I can say that 20 minutes daily proved to be very effective. On its own everything just start to transform. Others, over time, have also probably found that this amount of time has worked well for bringing about positive changes in themselves and so the number has become the de facto standard for a starting practice.

How Much Time Should You Practice Daily Meditation For
Anmol Mehta yoga teacher, Zen expert

The following video is described this way: Transcendental Meditation technique is a simple, effortless mental process practiced for 15-20 minutes twice a day, sitting quietly and comfortably in a chair with the eyes closed.
An introduction to the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique

GETTING COMFORTABLE

Getting comfortable is a pattern you may have noticed in many of the above meditation articles as the first step to relaxation and meditation techniques. The Mark Centre prayer exercise method instructs participants to begin silent prayer in the same way, to “Find a quiet place and sit comfortably” and concentrate for about 20 minutes. In a video called How To Do Meditation for Beginners, this instructor (at 3:14) describes how to “seat yourself comfortably in a chair… close your eyes…find yourself in a quiet space where you know you won’t be interrupted…make yourself comfortable on the chair and…close your eyes…inhale deeply…exhale slowly…” She explains that this is called prana, as you inhale oxygen, and energy circulates through your body. Prana is the sanskrit for the vital life-sustaining energy force of living beings.

Why is the Mark Centre, a Christian retreat centre affiliated with the BC Mennonite Brethren Conference, teaching the same 20 minute Mantra Meditation techniques of TM, Buddhism and Hinduism and calling it “Christian”?

THE BIBLICAL VIEW

A form of prayer that has gained wide popularity in Catholic and Protestant circles during the last number of years is centering prayer. This is another term for mystical contemplation and meditation. Through the use of a mantra a person descends to the center of his inner being where a mystical experience of god as a universal source of energy and wisdom awaits him. A mantra is a single word or a short prayer which is repeated over and over until all other thoughts have been excluded. Christian prayer, on the contrary, centers upon a personal God who infinitely transcends His creation.

In Eastern, monistic philosophy it is held that everything is one, and God is conceived to be part of His creation. God is a dimension, though hidden, of the same reality of which man is part. The purpose with centering prayer is to penetrate the outer layer of reality to get in touch with its deep, mystical core where god can be experienced as the deeper self or the god within. Through the use of a mantra you empty your mind by excluding the sense-perceived reality and proceed to the center of your being.

Prayers of this nature are usually practised for twenty minutes every morning and evening. The person chooses a sacred word, he tries to ignore all thoughts and feelings, letting them go by as boats going down a stream. When the thoughts keep coming back, the person returns to the sacred word. The goal is to persist with this exercise until all thoughts and feelings have faded away completely. Thoughts will pass if you wait long enough and then you will allegedly experience a state of pure consciousness or mental void. The thinking process is suspended and you will have an open mind and an open heart. The idea is to go to the center of your being to find the true self. This process is supposed to dismantle the false self which is the result of the emotional baggage we carry.

The altered state of consciousness which you then experience can also be described as a form of self-hypnosis. (…)

In centering prayer people are taught to use a prayer word or sacred word to empty the mind. The goal is to reach a mental void, or pure consciousness, in order to find god at the center. This is exactly what the Hindus and Buddhists do to reach god-consciousness or pure consciousness. The only difference would be that in Transcendental Meditation (TM) the mantras are the names of Hindu gods, and in Centering Prayer (CP) the sacred word is usually Jesus, God, peace, or love. The similarities between the two practices are as follows:

1. Both CP and TM use a 20-minute meditation.

2. Both CP and TM use a mantra to erase all thoughts and feelings.

3. Both CP and TM teach that in this meditation you pick up vibrations.

4. Both CP and TM claim that this meditation will give you more peace and less tension.

5. Both CP and TM teach you how to reach a mental void or altered state of consciousness.

6. Both CP and TM have the common goal of finding your god-center.

SOURCE: The Danger of Centering Prayer
http://www.bibleguidance.co.za/Engarticles/Centering.htm

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, it appears that this 20 minute prayer exercise taught and practiced at the BC MB Conference’s Mark Centre is not something that is learned from the Bible, but ‘coincidentally,’ it uses the same method taught and used by those who practice 20 minute eastern mantra meditation. If you still cannot see the parallels, you might try the following the forgotten way of BPM: the ancient Berean Practice of Meditation:

-take your laptop and your Bible to a quiet comfortable place
-ask God for wisdom and discernment
-focus by reading your Bible and this blog over slowly
-prayerfully repeat the words you have read for much more than twenty minutes, mull over, process, reason, balance and weigh everything with God’s Word
-end with a prayer

You should come away enlightened and completely uncomfortable about what is being taught as “Christian” meditation at the Mark Centre, and hopefully equipped to do something about it.

Related:

THE CONTEMPLATIVE MARK CENTRE TEACHES “CHRISTIANIZED” MANTRA MEDITATION
http://mbcontemplativearchive.blogspot.com/2011/01/contemplative-mark-centre-teaches.html

CONTEMPLATIVE SPIRITUALITY IN MB MISSIONS
http://mbcontemplativearchive.blogspot.com/2010/10/contemplative-spirituality-in-mb.html

Mantra Meditation
http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/meditation.htm

Also see these:

Contemplating The Alternative
http://www.inplainsite.org/html/contemplating_the_alternative.html#10Man

*NEW:

Centering Prayer Method – True Prayer?

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5 thoughts on “Why are Mennonite pastors, students and missionaries being taught to sit comfortably repeating a word quietly for 20 minutes?

  1. Pingback: More Mennonite Meditation Comparisons and Questions « Menno-lite

  2. Pingback: Love or Leave the Labyrinth? « Menno-lite

  3. Pingback: The Mark Centre’s New Book « Menno-lite

  4. It’s crap, it is New Age, and I am surprised and dismayed that these people who grew up in Truth who would have shunned this sort of thing 20 years ago , have now embraced it.

  5. Pingback: Can Stepping out of the Traffic lead to Idolatry? | Menno-lite

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