Meditation in Christianity

by Beatrix Dekkers-Heezius

Study week “Meditation in Christianity” 21 November-24 November 2017 at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (SRSG).

Some time has passed since this study week was offered, but as the content was timeless I hope that this resume of the talks is of interest to you. I have followed the chronological order of the talks but for sake of clarity I have combined the 3 presentations of Sister Corona.

Tuesday, 21 November

Understanding of God in Vedanta - Stephan Parker (Stoma), PsyD, E-RYT 500, YACEP, Traveling Teacher

Stomaji began by stating that there is only one reality “Ekam sat”. Although Hinduism is often regarded as polytheistic (many Gods), it is actually polymorphic (many forms of one reality). Advaita says that there is “not two”. He spoke about the 6 different Indian philosophies and pointed out the ideas that are in common with Christianity and Islam. Also Kashmir Shaivism was mentioned where the Sanskrit alphabet is described as a paradigm for the manifestation of the universe. A very similar system exists in Judaism, in Kabbalah, a mystical system of practice dating back to Abraham.

An interesting statement was that if you would replace the word “Kingdom (of Heaven)” in the Bible by the word “Samadhi”, it would become a yogic text.

Before coming to the retreat I read the book Breath Meditation by Abbot George Burke ( Swami Nirmalanda Giri ). There it was suggested to replace the word “Spirit” by the word “Breath” which results also in interesting insights.

Swami Rama and Swami Veda were well versed in Christian texts. The Book of Revelation was a favourite of Swami Rama as was the Book of the Psalms. They considered Jesus as a great Yogi. A Western author who wrote beautifully about Jesus is Maggie Ross. Another author , Elaine Pagels was mentioned by David Alkalay, a visiting Rabbi from New York, in a very interesting lecture on Judaism the week before.

Meditations on Images of Jesus - Sister Corona Mary, (Servite Sister) Doctorate in Biblical Theology and Acharya of Jegimatha Ashram Tiruchirapalli

This Christian nun who spoke of the idea of “Theosis”, deification, becoming like God, being the purpose of life. The spirit is constantly being attracted by God, but it is not clearly felt by us because of distractions. “Catharsis”, purification is needed.

According to her, in Christianity the Guru seeks the sadhaka, in the East the sadhaka seeks the Guru. In Christianity, Jesus is considered to be the only Guru.

We did several short meditations on images of Jesus.

The next time she spoke about “Theoria”, the stage in which we begin to see after catharsis which takes a long time first. In “the stage of “Theoria” the mind penetrates the object of attention. The image is the outward form, the inner form is the essence, the reality. In this stage all desires become still and illumination comes. If the image is divine we are illuminated by God. The image must be appealing to you, for example Jesus walking on water.

Then Sister Corona spoke about “Sophia”. It is the direct identification with the Goddess of Knowledge (Sophia) and a direct experience of God.

She recommended to meditate at least 45 minutes during at least 10 days in that manner and see how your relationship with the figure you contemplated has changed.

She continued on “Theosis”, the idea of deification which was more accepted in the Greek speaking countries and by the Desert Fathers than in the Western Church which is more conceptualising. In the Eastern Church is more poetry, more freedom. The ultimate goal was to become like Him. Why should we hesitate to be Godlike? Deification is transformation.

It is the reason that Jesus came, to be an example, to show us the way. Jesus often uses the word “abide” which does not mean coming and going, it is living into each other.

Sister Corona then guided us in a meditation on the mantra “Jesus in me, me in Jesus” or “I in You, You in me” which gave me an interesting experience as the breath adjusted to the text.

Introduction to Christian Faith and Approach to Meditation - Ma Tureeya Bharati, (RSCJ) Society of the Sacred Heart, Jeevandhara Sadhana Kutir, Rishikesh.

Also Swami Ma Tureeya Bharati is a Christian nun as well. She has become a Swami at the same day as Swami Ma Radha and Swami Nitya.

Some elements  of her talk.

- All of us are aware of a Power. Sometimes we are attracted , sometimes not.

- Jewish people in the Bible are symbolic for the whole of humanity, not a select sort of people.

- God is walking and talking with humans and is felt as bliss.

- God is love and by surrender to that love we are liberated. We are not able to redeem ourselves alone; we need the grace of divinity.

- Baptism is symbolic for stepping into the flow of consciousness.

The key thought in Swami Tureeya’s presentation was that the identity of the Christian is in the fact of being made one in the Holy Trinity, i.e. the very life of the supreme, through baptism.
In the afternoon she guided us through a beautiful meditation.

Video of a Talk by David Alkalay

In the evening we saw an interesting video of a talk that David Alkalay gave the previous week, on the Sabbath in which he explained the symbolism of the rituals. It was intriguing to see the resemblance and shifts in the Catholic sacraments.

22 November, Morning

Spiritual Teachings of St. John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila - Father Thomas, who has a little ashram in the Himalaya, 5000 ft. High.

Both of these Christian mystics lived in the 16th century, in the same region. Theresa was more mystical than philosophical, while St.John was more theoretical but in a very systematic way. Spiritual ways are twofold; ascetical (tapas) which is hard work and mystical where you are infused with knowledge.

The goal of St. John of the Cross is Union with God. That goal is reached by prayer and spiritual life. It is like climbing a mountain (Carmel). There are 3 ways to reach the top, 2 broader ones on the sides (for the imperfect) and one narrow middle one where you have nothing in the way of realization, no possessions or satisfaction but where you reach first heavenly glory, joy, knowledge and consolation and finally God’s Glory.

The lateral ones lead to good things, but not God, so don’t get stuck. One must discern what is permanent and what is passing. Having the eyes only on God, that is sannyasa, renunciation.

For two things coming together they must be of the same nature, but the 7 cardinal sins are in the way.

Purification is necessary. The intellect is purified by faith. If you accept being a disciple of Christ you receive 3 gifts; faith, hope and love.

In terms of faith, intellectual pride should go. Accept what you cannot understand, if told by someone you trust. Ultimately one has to leave reason behind (dark night= sunya), faith has to become the only light.

Hope is purifying memory, which always looks back, living in the past. Hope looks to the future.

Love is purifying the will. Love is God; if you love God with all your heart, you love all because everyone is a child of God. Thus all your action becomes selfless service.

Theresa of Avila was asked by her community to teach how to pray. That lead to the book The Way of Perfection. She speaks about setting the game, meaning that if you want to play chess you have first to arrange the pieces. Thus preparation, organising your life. The quality of your prayer depends on the quality of your daily life and vice-versa.

Humility is important and detachment, freedom of heart, and being in control of yourself.

Attachment is of two natures, passionate which is negative and not demanding that which is positive. Both are distraction to prayer. Stay continuously in a yogic state. Practise equanimity also during work.

Practice prayer by beginning vocal praying, like “Our Father …”, than mental prayer and then prayer of recollection where mind and body come together. (Mindfulness) Actively withdraw the senses until there is a single stream of thoughts, like a fine stream of oil.

There is also prayer of quietness, prayer of sleep and ultimately prayer of union which is also called contemplation.


God in the Christian Tradition - Fr. Davis Varayilan, CMI (Carmelites of Mary Immaculate), Theologian and Vice Provincial of St. John’s Province, Bijnoor

In this talk, slides were used while talking; consequently the content went so fast that it is almost impossible to transmit what was being said. Topics were: forgiveness, Jesus and his relationship to the Father. The Universal Plan of Salvation, the Vision of the Kingdom of God and how to reach it, Trinitarian life, ways of knowing God and why we have a thirst for God.

23 November, Morning

God in the Christian Tradition - Fr. Davis

Father Davis continued his talk speaking more about the Church this time,  Christian Identity and the need for missionary work, how to become a Christian  and the nature of God.

Later in the morning

Eastern/Western Approach to Spirituality - Fr. Joe Mannath SDB (Society Don Bosco) Retired Professor of Madras University and visiting lecturer.

A very spontanuous and inspiring speaker who launched a variety of ideas about spirituality and had appealing statements and questions.

- We cannot know about someone’s spirituality.

- There is not such a thing as subjectivity; we are not an insider; words mean different things to different people.

- We are all multiple identities, which we can change.

- Everyone has an internal radar for Divinity

- It is easier to remove a monk from the world than the world from a monk

- Different ways of approaching spirituality

Continuing in the afternoon

- Organised religion is too much related to politics and power.

- Religion does not burst out of the sky, is not organised in the beginning.

- Every religion has different standards as to what makes a disciple.

- Religion is not always a choice; community is important; people are easy to maniplulate.

- A minority likes being challenged; real spirituality is not sought. (Not sure what is meant here.)

- Difference is made by individuals and small groups

- Feminine aspects are neglected

24 November, Morning

A Comparative Understanding of Christian and Hindu Experiences - Swami Prayag Giri, Residential Swami at SRSG

Swami Prayag began by stating that there is a difference between mystical experences and psychic ones. Mystical means Union with God, is spiritual. All realised men, either in Christianity, in Sufism, in Hinduism, etc. have this merge at the core of their being.

Merging with the Divine Essence, merging with God. The word mysticism comes from Greek, “closing a wound”.

Theresa of Avila was permanently in such a state. Brother Laurence was in ecstasy by nature. In Christianism these mystic experiences are well recorded end checked by a special council.

In India anyone who is intoxicated with Krishna or God can be called a mystic. But if one speaks of a path and a goal, it is dualistic; in Advaita, nondualistic, is total merging.

In India during the festivities of Navaratri virgin girls fasting can get possessed by Devata. Their appearance is completely changed as is their voice.

Some boys are raised from early age in the belief that they are Shiva and in the end they really think theyare, but one cannot call this total merging. Krishna followers are also dualistic because they seek Love to the divine, to Krishna.

Ramakrishna is an example of someone who was taught advaita and given Samadhi by the Naga’s. But as he kept seeing “the Mother” it is regared as a dualistic experience, not total merging.

Then Swami Prayag spoke about the types of Shaivism and Tantra where God is seen in everything, nothing is high, nothing is low. All the negative qualities go, only the Glory of God remains.

Late morning

Jesus Teachings - Father Joe Mannath

- God loves us not because we are good but to make us good.

- One cannot know something, one can only become something.

- Books are a fossilised distillation of reality, they become a dead concept.

- Jesus “you are a child of God and so is everybody else”. The message is that we should love and do what we want. He is not caring what we put in our mouth but what comes out. He never says anything about Church rituals.

- All miracles are bout healing, never about winning a fight, it is all about tenderness

- Never condemning, never harmful

- Healing is not the main thing but to restore the relationship with God

- Christianity is moving from fear to trust

- Mentioned Thomas Merton as an interesting writer

At the closure of his talk we all received a beautiful little book with his own poems

Christian Yogic Meditation - Fr. George Mlakuzhyil, Jezuit priest, theologian, Yoga practitioner, writer, School of St. Xavier, Delhi

Spoke about the relevance of yoga for Christians, how it helps to become better Christians. Yoga means basically “Union with God”. Yoga helps us to enter in communion.

In the 2nd Vatican Consilium it is stated that there is truth and holiness in other religions also (!)

Christian meditation according to him is mental prayer, discursive. Meditation leads us to contemplation, silent prayer in which we experience the Presence of God.

The Holy Spirit is considered as masculine, while in the Old Testament “Ruach”, the Hebrew word for Holy Ghost, is feminine. George himself experiences the Holy Spirit as Motherly, God as the Father, and Jesus as Brother. In his eyes, AUM is Trinity and Turiya as the mystical presence of God.

In the afternoon we did a long relaxation exercise on the Trinity, with elements of Yoga Nidra.

Personal Notes

This week has been very instructive for me. As I was not raised as a Christian, many things were new to me, specially the more “technical” details. It as very interesting to discover the points of view that are in common between “East and West”.

What struck me was the fact that in India Jesus is regarded and respected as one of the many yogis whereas in Christianity he is the one and only. Christianity is very much focused on one person, as if the whole religion started with his birth.

The fact that only in the 60’s the Church accepted officially that there is truth in other religions as well is a source of bewildering to me. More so, the fact that there seems to be no statement in a Vatican Consilium that the Kingdom of Heaven is to be found in ourselves.

Although the theme of the week was announced as “Meditation in Christianity”, I would have appreciated more on meditation itself. In preparation for the week I read some very interesting text on the Desert Fathers and I would have loved to hear more about their practices. Specially the practice of “Hesychia” seems to be very close to the practise of silence in our Tradition.

Also, the role of the breath felt missing while there have been written interesting texts by Christian writers and striking quotes in the Bible about the breath, like in Job 27:3 “All the while my breath is in me and the spirit of God is in my nostrils”.

And St. Anthony the Great “A true man is he who understands that the soul is divine and immortal, being God’s breath. The soul is the breath of God”.

But how wonderful that we were able to share in the knowledge and experience of these contributors who so generously spent their time with us.

Photos by Stephen Parker (Stoma)



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