Welcome: An Introduction

Sharing the insights I discover as I explore and experience the mystery that is our reality. Join me in my journey and share yours.




Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Use of Mantras for the Christian





I believe the truth of God weaves itself in and out of all of man's cultures and religions. There are few absolutes that make up reality, one being that there is no place where God is not. He is everywhere. (Romans 8:39) We only have to cultivate our inner senses to pick up His presence within and all around us.


Man has been finding ways to "tune" into the Divine and center himself for thousands of years now. Most likely from the very beginning when man's eyes beheld the rising sun spreading it's first garment of light over the horizon in early morning and like a flame, consciousness was realized.  With the awareness of consciousnesses one who becomes introspective soon discovers the awareness of the Other, of the Self, of God within.

That discovery has become the quest of spiritual seekers from all the wisdom traditions and religions beyond. It is the pearl of great price. One must shed all the layers of their ego to become spiritually naked in order to fully become one with God.  We must become empty to be filled. Man's praise, material possessions, earthly honors and recognitions all ring hollow as compared to the peace that surpasses all understanding that occurs in the moment one's soul is consummated with God's Spirit. A divine union of infinite proportions. The bride coming home to her groom. A true awareness of the transcendence of being and interconnectedness with all that is.

There are most likely as many ways to discover God's presence within as there are souls searching for such union. God's love and mercy creates pathways individualized to those who seek Him earnestly. We all have different personalities, different ways in which we appreciate and connect to that which is around us. So, it makes sense that there isn't just one way to come into God's presence.   A thoughtful diagram revealing the many different contemplative practices can be seen here: 
http://ascendingthehills.blogspot.com/2011/10/when-wonder-wanes.html Perhaps you might consider trying out one or two new practices in your spiritual disciplines.

I'd like to address the practice of using mantras as a spiritual discipline and pathway to centering oneself to receiving God's presence.  I think there are a lot of misconceptions regarding this practice and it is a bit disconcerting to me at times that so many Christians I come across demonize this beautiful tradition that has been practiced for hundreds and hundreds of years in monasteries and holy places all around the world. I sincerely believe that both mantras derived from ancient Christianity as well as Eastern mysticism practices can be beneficial for the Christian. I'd like to focus more on dispelling the demonization of practicing mantras derived from practices born from the East.



Eastern mysticism has a culture brimming with beautiful chants that are full of meaning and have helped its meditators center themselves in their practices for countless centuries. I believe there is nothing to fear, as a Christian, in implementing these chants in one's own disciplines for they can have a deep centering effect when meditating.  We can learn a lot from our spiritual brothers and sisters in the East. Some Buddhist chants that I have found useful while meditating have been: Om mani padme hum (the chant for compassion), Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om (the chant for peace) and Om gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā which translates "Gone, gone, gone to the other shore beyond.”

I am not alone in my open approach in incorporating elements of Eastern meditations in my contemplative practices. Respected Christian leaders and voices from around the world have come out with similar sentiments and have seen the benefit in becoming acquainted with Eastern philosophies. Such voices: Morton Kelsey, Henri Nouwen, Father Thomas Keating, Thomas Merton...and so many more! 



Renown Catholic monk, Father Thomas Keating, in his book , Open Heart, Open Mind, wrote:

“We should not hesitate to take the fruit of the age old wisdom of the East and “capture” it for Christ. Indeed, those of us who are in ministry should make the necessary effort to acquaint ourselves with as many of these Eastern techniques as possible… Many Christians who take their prayer life seriously have been greatly helped by Yoga, Zen, TM and similar practices, especially where they have been initiated by reliable teachers and have a solidly developed Christian faith to find inner form and meaning to the resulting experiences”. p. 38


 The purpose of chanting for the Christian differs in some ways from that of Buddhist. This difference would be an article unto itself, but basically those in Eastern mysticism seek to empty themselves completely and remain emptied, achieving a nondual state. While the Christian meditator often seeks to be emptied in order to encounter and be filled with God's presence. Though the objective can sometimes vary, the means in which to center oneself to achieve the desired outcome of producing a stillness within, can be the same.

Morton T. Kelsey, in his book, " The Other Side of Silence: A Guide to Christian Meditation", helps illustrate the difference between Eastern and Christian meditation in the excerpt below while also echoing Father Thomas Keating's sentiments in encouraging Christians to explore Eastern meditation practices:

"...if you really envision all life ultimately merging into the effortless, suspended bliss of Nirvana, then you will try to make your meditation another step toward release from the illusion and burdens and pains of this life. You will consider it a way of entering a state of imageless enlightenment in order to experience the bliss of mature relationship with the universe. This is the meditation found in Zen and other disciplines derived from Buddhism.

Christian meditation in its most developed form is quite different...It is based on a view of the world that finds each individual important, both in the material realm and in the nonmaterial or spiritual realm. In this practice of meditation one expects to meet someone, and the encounter is usually experienced as a relationship with a person....Outer aids and actions may also help to bring one to the encounter, and of course there is no reason why Christians should not use the techniques of Zen or TM or Yoga. These are valuable as long as one is aware that there is another element in Christian meditation, an addition that makes it quite another practice. Christian meditation is not a way of escaping from one's condition. Rather it is something we undertake in order to bring the totality of our being into relationship with a person, an Other to whom we can relate. " p. 57




The use of a "breath prayer" or, in other words mantra, has been used since the times of the Desert Fathers. The Desert Fathers were men (and some women as well) who removed themselves from society, choosing to dwell in the wilderness regions of the Middle East beginning from  around the 4th Century, to devote themselves fully in the pursuit of seeking to encounter God. From all the sources I have read, they are said to be the first among Christianity who promoted the use of the mantra as a tool for meditation and becoming attuned to the Divine within. Their presence and practices within Christianity brought rise to monasticism and to the rich tapestry of chants that can be seen in various forms. Examples: Ambrosian, Gregorian, Hildegarian and Byzantine chants.

In his book, The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen cites John Climacus, a 6th century Desert Father, instructing others to use a simple word or phrase, repeated, to achieve a stillness:

The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart...A word or sentence repeated frequently can help us to concentrate, to move to the center, to create an inner stillness and thus to listen to the voice of God. When we simply try to sit silently and wait for God to speak to us, we find ourselves bombarded with endless conflicting thoughts and ideas. But when we use a very simple sentence such as "O God, come to my assistance," or "Jesus, master, have mercy on me," or a word such as "Lord" or "Jesus," it is easier to let the many distractions pass by without being misled by them. Such a simple, easily repeated prayer can slowly empty out our crowded interior life and create the quiet space where we can dwell with God. This way of simple prayer, when we are faithful to it and practice it at regular times, slowly leads us to an experience of rest and opens us to God's active presence." p. 25

The Eastern Orthodox church has long implemented the Jesus Prayer as a mantra in their practices. This is one of the mantras I use most commonly when I am seeking to achieve a state of stillness within. It is simply : Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

There is a lot more that can be written on this subject. It has been the object of already many published books. Hopefully, though,  this gives a little bit of a background on mantras and helps dispel some of the fear that others try to spread in order to keep Christians away from investigating the potential riches Eastern mysticism can provide them in their spiritual disciplines.  As, Thomas Keating suggests, the Christian should only branch out and incorporate Eastern meditation practices in one's own disciplines if, first, one is firmly rooted in Christ. Let the Spirit be our teacher and guide in determining what practices we implement and approach. She will never lead us astray but only deeper into the heart of God.

Comments? I'd love to hear them. Please leave them in the Comments section. Thank you!

36 comments:

  1. Noninclusive spiritual paths are a good way to tune God OUT.

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  2. Great post Jessica. Interesting to see how you and I are thinking and writing such similar things lately.

    I've personally never used mantras or chants. I don't think it's something that would feel natural to me.

    My meditative moments are richest when there is silence or the sounds of nature, or certain types of instrumental music, or the soft glow of candles. Scents and aromas also seem to tap into my spiritual being somehow.

    This affirms to me what you said here, "There are most likely as many ways to discover God's presence within as there are souls searching for such union. God's love and mercy creates pathways individualized to those who seek Him earnestly. We all have different personalities, different ways in which we appreciate and connect to that which is around us. So, it makes sense that there isn't just one way to come into God's presence."

    Great thoughts...as always.

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  3. JR...I couldn't agree more! Thanks for stopping by :)

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  4. Thank you so much for stopping by Bill and leaving your thoughts.

    "My meditative moments are richest when there is silence or the sounds of nature, or certain types of instrumental music, or the soft glow of candles. Scents and aromas also seem to tap into my spiritual being somehow."

    This reminds me of what I read in a book once, on Celtic spirituality. The ancient celts believed in praying using "the five stringed harp"...becoming attuned to God's presence in the present moment by becoming aware of everything, moment by moment, that their five senses experienced.

    ~blessings

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  5. Wonderful post! I was particularly struck by the goal of "emptiness" in Buddhism contrasted with the "relationship" expected in Christian meditation. To be filled with that peace of God which surpasses all understanding and so many ways to find it, each as unique as we are.
    Beautiful, Jessica!

    Blessings!

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  6. I love the way you write, there is such beauty in your words. <3 I enjoyed this.

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  7. What a thoughtful and well researched post! I have often thought that a chant or mantra would be very useful in prayer but have never really known how to incorporate it. Thanks for leading the way!

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  8. For me my meditation or connection with God is through music....to put on worship music or be in church worship music LOUD....hands raised...and I am lost on a good path...I become aware of what I believe and why ...I am connected ....As always...XOXOXOXO

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  9. Mantras are powerful and the use of these mantras have an astounding affect on a person... When chanting correct pronunciation is very key especially the sanskrit mantras..
    Like any prayers these are sacred and an understanding of them and their use or effect is key.
    Certain mantras work for certain people and then there are the universal mantras... and then there mantras given to a person solely for their purpose...
    Mantras itself come in various stages or sub categories and as you said there is a lot more to this subject....
    Thank you for sharing

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  10. Chanting calms the mind and soothes the soul. I agree with Savira about mantras having astounding effects on people chanting them correctly. Great post...

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  11. Martha, I believe it's a definite testament to God's infinite love and compassion for mankind-that He is capable and willing of reaching people in so many different ways. Thanks so much for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the post :)

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  12. Jan...Thank you for your encouraging words. I am so glad you enjoyed the post :) ~blessings

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  13. Lynn...Thank you for stopping by and for your kind comments :) I am really glad that this post helped give you a little info in which you could use to start your journey into incorporating more elements into your practices. Chanting has been a really meaningful way for me to enter into God's presence. I really enjoy trying out all the different ways there are to encountering God and would definitely encourage people not to limit themselves, but to seek and discover and keep their prayer and devotional lives fresh and new. Thanks again :) ~blessings

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  14. Bonnie, Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing the way God reaches you-by means of music and worship. That can definitely be a powerful way to encountering God. :) ~blessings

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  15. Savira...Thank you so much for all the great info you shared on mantras. You are right, there is so much to it! Definitely more than I could really cover in one blog post. If you're up for it, I'd love to interview you on this topic sometime! ;) ~blessings

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  16. Sulekkha...I definitely agree. Thank you so much for stopping by :) ~blessings

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  17. I am amazed at how similar we think, explore, even our blog template. I am also married for 8 years have two kids. I wonder are we soul sisters! anyway check this out to know wht I mean http://jerlyt.blogspot.com/2007/12/section-ii-chr9-vedic-approach-to-god.html

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  18. I do have means of communicating with God,I do have my own mantras,which have a calming affect on me......Great post Jessica.

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  19. I loved your open approach to mantras Jessica. We in the East have grown up with chanting mantras. It indeed calms the mind and as we chant positive energy is given out to the universe. It empties your cluttered mind as you keep chanting, which ultimately gives you peace. Loved this post Jessica

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  20. What an inspirational post Jessica! You have discussed something that I haven't heard much about. Thank you!

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  21. Great post, Jessica but I do wish to counter this. The chants which you have mentioned, of course, stand for peace, compassion and other such qualities but they have been formed with a particular sect and deity, perhaps. Being a Christian, with so many promises and prayers, why should I choose to chant something from Buddhism or any other path? No matter how much power they have, they are equivalent to bowing down before other gods, if I may say. The Ten commandments say that we are not bow before other gods and chanting what belongs to Buddhism is something I can't agree with.

    Jessica, sorry to have stumped you on this but this is what I think.

    Joy always,
    Susan

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  22. Jerly, thank you so much for stopping by. I am looking forward to checking out your blog. We definitely do have a lot in common! I look forward in getting to know you more :)
    ~blessings

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  23. Alpana..thank you for stopping by, I'm glad you enjoyed the post! :)

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  24. Rimly,

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience with mantras. For sure, chanting does elicit much peace to those whe partake in the practice. A beautiful way to become centered. Thank you for coming by.
    ~blessings

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  25. Thank you for stopping by Carol. Glad you enjoyed it :)

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  26. Mary, thanks for coming by. I'm glad the post was able to give you some new info...I always love visiting your blog and learning new things..hopefully this is returning the favor! ;)

    ~blessings

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  27. Susan, I appreciate you stopping by and leaving your honest comments. I definitely encourage everyone who visits my blog to be honest with their reactions to the posts. I don't mind being challenged in the I think or present material...that leads to more critical thinking...and that's always a beneficial thing.

    "Being a Christian, with so many promises and prayers, why should I choose to chant something from Buddhism or any other path?"

    Well, you certainly don't have to choose to do that :) I believe if you have a meaningful devotional life that is filled with new discoveries of God and that you find peace in and no desire to look elsewhere, than that is where God wants you, and that is what is right for you and there's certainly no need to look elsewhere.

    "No matter how much power they have, they are equivalent to bowing down before other gods, if I may say. The Ten commandments say that we are not bow before other gods and chanting what belongs to Buddhism is something I can't agree with."

    Well, it's not as if when a Christian is chanting a mantra, like "om mani padme hum"..that they are bowing to any Hindu gods or anything. At least that is not the intention. Oftentimes when one chants one will start off thinking about a certain thing..like for example..with Om mani padme hum meaning compassion..perhaps the meditator will start picturing Jesus in their head, while chanting, and recall the stories in the NT that reveal his compassion and how he calls us to have compassion. After awhile though, the meditator stops thinking about anything at all. The chant is merely a tool to be used to acheive a state of stillness within one's mind. To empty one of their wayward thoughts, the "clutter" as I think Rimly mentioned, that so often fills our heads. When we are emptied of all of this, it gives God the space in which to fill it with his love and light. To use another language and a phrase from another religion, that expresses a truth Jesus taught, I think does no disservice to God if this is helping one acheive becoming fully aware in His presence.

    Thanks for your thoughts. :)

    ~blessings and peace

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  28. This is something that I know very little about Jessica. I have read the post but would like to sit down and study it when I am more quiet. I will be back later tonight and comment again.

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  29. Thank you Nelieta...I appreciate the thoughtfulness that you approach this information with :)
    ~blessings

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  30. Thoughtful post Jessica.

    Eastern religions have a history of meditation whereas Christendom tends to focus on contemplation.

    The difference?

    Meditation empties or stills the chattering mind, whilst contemplation focus on one thought or visualization to the exclusion of others.

    I've never really been into techniques myself as for me the technique can easily take the place of awareness, the goal of both methods.

    In my experience, when we get attached to a particular spiritual discipline that appears to work, Spirit breaks in to move us on into the Unknown.

    Whatever helps still the ego driven chatter is to be valued but it is the Divine approach that usually produces the life change.

    I've a wee post entitled 'The Inner Void' if any of your readers are interested.

    http://theprodigalprophet.com/2011/07/26/the-inner-void-revisited/

    Blessings

    Dylan

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  31. All the contemplatives you mention, Keating, Merton, Kelsey, Nouwen - all of these have helped mentor me in inner life development, and I appreciate them all for the part they’ve played in my life. When I practice centering prayer, my simple mantra is “Love” because that is who God is to me. Keating taught us to choose, preferably, a one syllable word, with which to identify God. He recommends no more than two syllables. I’m currently writing on the benefits of contemplative or centering prayer. There are just so many wonderful fruits from this spiritual practice.

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  32. Hi Jessica:
    It is amazing to see someone's growth, both spiritually and as a writer. Since I've been following your blog, I've watched as you have become deeply spiritual, questioning whether religion and spirituality can co-mingle.

    Along with your spiritual growth I've noticed that your writing style has changed too. You've become much more artistic in your style, more poetic.
    --I believe the truth of God weaves itself in and out of all of man's cultures

    --when man's eyes beheld the rising sun spreading it's first garment of light over the horizon in early morning and like a flame, consciousness was realized.

    There are other passages here that struck me as more poetic. I've noticed this during the past couple of months, Jessica, and I wonder if you have?

    Go back to several months ago, maybe last year and see if you've noticed this. I like the new you. Your spirituality is a breath of fresh air. I'm so happy to have discovered your blog.

    I have chanted a little bit during some of my meditations and I'll admit it did seem a bit silly when I started, but after several moments I forgot I was even doing so and the chant simply became another part of my practice.

    All good advice, Jessica.
    --
    Chris

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  33. There were several things that struck me in your post and I wanted to digest them as I go along with my reflections.

    I use the Jesus prayer by the desert fathers several times of the day...'Signore, abbi pieta di me..." or St. Gertrude's ejaculation, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I love you, please save souls".

    I started seeing the mantras that you used on your wall posts. It is good to learn them sometime.

    It makes me also think of the body prayers we use as we focus on our breath on every gesture or movement.

    I think ALL kinds of prayers lead us to a deeper awareness of God by listening..."real" listening

    The Spirit showers us with inspiration to draw us closer to God. Always remember that whatever unites your soul and whole being is of God.Mantras, chants, centering and breathing prayers, ejaculations and body prayers...labyrinth... these are all tools. What is more important is the effect it brings you. Does it make you a better person? more loving and generous?

    Loving you Jessica sis... thanks for widening my horizons. God is very generous.

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  34. I totally agree that we should appreciate and incorporate eastern methodas into our spiritual practces. Loved your post.

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  35. impressed ~ great flow , honest intent , perfect .

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