PM writes: “My children attend a Catholic Primary school in Australia. They tell me they do meditation at school and use the word ‘Maranatha.’ Is this in line with Catholic teaching? Should I exclude them from these sessions. I just read a blog of yours about centering prayer, (John Main). This seems to be exactly what they do, empty their minds and repeat the word ‘Maranatha’. What do you think?”
I think you should ask some serious questions about this practice because it sounds like they’re using mantras, which are common to eastern forms of meditation that strive to blank the mind. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explicitly lists “efforts of concentration to reach a mental void” as an “erroneous notion of prayer” (No. 2726).
Christian prayer is a dialogue with God; eastern meditation is a concentration exercise. The two are not synonymous. A person could use a sacred word, such as Jesus or Maranatha (which means “Come Lord!”), to keep their thoughts focused on God in prayer. But if the word is used as a mantra, as it is in Centering Prayer and Transcendental Meditation, then its purpose is to banish thoughts and keep the mind blank.
The problem with these techniques is that they are designed not for prayer but for bringing about a trancelike or hypnotic state, aka an altered state of consciousness. Hindu and Buddhist practitioners use either a mantra, a breathing technique or both, to bring about this state.
“The mind in both Hinduism & Buddhism is seen as part of the material body and therefore a barrier to spiritual enlightenment,” writes New Age expert Marcia Montenegro. “Meditation is designed to bypass the mind, using special breathing techniques. The ultimate goal is samadhi with no cognition, or absorption into a state of pure consciousness through disengaging the mind and a loss of self-awareness and subject-object awareness.”
In such a state, “rational judgment and discernment is suspended, and the mind is highly suggestible and open to any influences present,” she warns.
The altered state that comes about as a result of mind blanking exercises differs from that of spontaneous daydreaming, quiet contemplation or other forms of rational concentration.
“The euphoria or peace experienced by many at first is short-lived and deceptive,” Montenegro writes. “Instructors of these techniques who teach them as a spiritual discipline often warn students that psychic experiences and supernatural encounters are common, some of them frightening . . . The effect for some people is similar to a drug trip. It is this state of mind during which one is supposed to contact guides from the spirit world.”
Is this really something we want to expose our children to?
No school should be employing prayer techniques that involve mind blanking any more than they should be employing a hypnotist. Parents should be made aware of what is being taught and given the option to remove their children from these instructions.
The fact that a Catholic school is teaching this is just plain tragic. The doctors of our Church, such as Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, wrote the book on authentic contemplation. We don’t need to borrow anything from Hinduism and Buddhism! Exposing children to mind-blanking exercises instead of the rich tradition of authentic Catholic contemplation is not only unfortunate but completely misguided.
More information on this subject can be found in Why Centering Prayer Should Not be Taught to Children.
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