It is essential to understand the vastly different meanings given to the word “meditation” in the West and in the East. Meditation in the West has always been synonymous with contemplation, or thinking deeply about something. Christian meditation involves seeking deeper insights into God’s Word (Psalm:1:2), pondering God Himself (Psalm:63:6), reflecting upon God’s works (Psalm:77:12), and considering what our responsibility is and what our response should be (1 Timothy:4:15).
In contrast, Eastern meditation (in spite of Robert Schuller’s endorsement) involves ceasing to think, and emptying the mind. It is a prelude to possession. Through repeating over and over a word or phrase (a mantra) or focusing on a candle or upon one’s breathing the mind goes blank and one enters an altered state of consciousness. An Eastern meditation instructor tries to explain this induced state as natural:
“If you’re new to [Eastern] meditation, remember that all of us naturally meditate. We have ordinary experiences…that regularly put us in a meditative state: watching the sun as it sets, listening to soothing music, or just being at the water’s edge. Our mind slows down, our body relaxes, and our consciousness changes. Our brain shifts into the slower frequency known as the alpha state. And that’s it—we are meditating.”
What he describes is, of course, the opposite of the contemplation which has always comprised meditation in the West. But the switch has been made and the West has taken the bait. Phil Jackson has involved the entire Chicago Bulls team in Eastern meditation, a practice which he picked up in college. He writes, “The first time we practiced meditation, Michael [Jordan] thought I was joking. Midway through the session, he cocked one eye open and took a glance around the room to see if any of his teammates were actually doing it. To his surprise, many of them were.” Jackson, who rejected Christianity, explains what he found in Eastern mysticism:
“What appealed to me about Zen was its emphasis on clearing the mind…. One of the fundamental tools for doing that is a form of sitting meditation known as zazen. The form of zazen I practice involves sitting completely still on a cushion with eyes open but directed downward and focusing attention on the breath…. Over time your thoughts calm down…and you experience moments of just being you without your mind getting in the way…keeping your mind open and directing it at nothing.”
Buddhism offered Jackson an escape from the God of the Bible whom, as a young boy, he once feared and desired to please. Says John Daido Loori, abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York: “Buddhism is a…religion with a God or (depending on the school) an afterlife…. [It is] the search for the nature of the self, which ends in the realization that there is no self, that all the beings and objects…are manifestations of the same underlying reality.”