Vacuum or Fountain

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  Romans 12:1-2

When St Paul speaks of renewing the mind, does seemingly harmless Eastern Meditation fit into his thought?  Eastern Meditation, coming from Hindu roots, is centered on quieting the mind and focusing on a single sound.  Often one hears “Om” intoned, or more accurately, the three letters “AUM” – signifying the Hindu three key gods: “A” invokes Brahma, the creative side; “U’ invokes Vishnu, the preserver and sustainer of everything; and “M” invokes Shiva, representing the destructive aspect of the divine, who eventually dissolves all things back into the void.

Oscillating between the opposites of sound (the “AUM”) and silence, first the sound then even the thought of “AUM” is mentally suppressed, so that mind and intellect cease to intrude into the state of “pure awareness.”  After all, if one is listening carefully to hear the stillness, that is, the sound of the void, then it can’t be busy thinking.  Repeating then especially “AUM” is important in reaching the sixth stage of yoga, that is, union with the source of the divine

The idea of the divine is that everything in existence, living or non-living, from rocks to plants to people, comprises the impersonal Absolute, the “Brahman;” and all living beings, regardless of any distinction or position or attribute or shape, exists in and are connected by the one “Atman,” or universal soul.  This means there is divinity in every being and since all existence revolves around a single reality, therefore the goal of life is to transcend being an individual and attain to the true inner nature, which is the divine and pure essence of Brahman within.

Significantly then, Biblical meditation is entirely opposed to Eastern Meditation.  In the first place the concepts of the divine couldn’t be farther apart.  The God of the Bible stands outside of and far different from His creation, having a specific plan, purpose and destination intended for it from the beginning.  He defines His Glory, firstly as His goodness, whereas Brahman, since it contains all things, is therefore both the good and the bad.  Considering human brutality and cruelty in evidence throughout history, as in the recent riots in the States, one would hope that the center of all life would not be the source of but rather the Refuge from and Victor over evil, which God shows Himself to be.

God stands above all history, which makes the Bible unique.  God tells humans what He will do even thousands of years in advance – and then does it.  He is not a mere Karma dispassionately settling accounts for evil.  In contrast, His Glory is characterized as mercy and grace, patiently temporarily looking past human rebellion as He calls them to repentance and forgiveness, seeking for them a different and more fulfilling life and eternity.

God’s will is that humans as individuals should be placed into an extraordinary relationship with Himself, described as the close interaction between a Father and His beloved children, and even as found in the intense mutual faithfulness of Covenant.  Just as marriage vows demand both choice and commitment, so also God describes His relationship in terms of a steadfast deliberate love – as opposed to the Hindu Brahman which, being merely a reservoir which holds all creation, really has no concept for a self-sacrificing love.

This moves us to the critical difference between the two systems of belief, which is, of course, Jesus.  There is no Hindu god who selflessly, voluntarily suffered the whole of divine rejection and death, the judgment (more than mere Karma) deserved for every act of rebellion from all humans from all time.  In sacrificing Himself just once, He nullified for all time any need for the endless cycles of reincarnation and their futile attempt for self-perfection.  He is the only comfort and solution resolving the stinging rebuke of Romans 3[:10,12,23] that “There is none righteous, no, not one; … There is none who does good, no, not one … for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God,.”  

After His witnessed death, His not reincarnated but resurrected living body was actually observed by over 500 people before His return to the throne of heaven.  This physical human body, soul and spirit taken on in the first Christmas will never be divided from the unbounded nature of God the Son.  This Savior is Whom we gratefully have chosen to follow, knowing that He has unimaginably good things He will share with us now and for eternity.

Realizing these differences in belief is significant in regard to what Biblical meditation encompasses.  It is based upon a substantial and solid reality, upon a God Who is revealed as one God in three Persons – capital “P” Persons complete with specific personalities and activities.  Therefore – and it is a key “therefore” – since we deal with a Personal God, not some “void” (which is a description of Brahman), a God Who will interact with us on a personalized level forever, Biblical meditation has nothing to do with an empty mind.  God insists that we focus, not on “nothing” or a “void,” but on the wealth of wonderful and positive things springing up in our relationship with Him.

Consider for example Psalm 1[:2], where the godly man’s “delight is in the Law of the LORD, and in His Law he meditates day and night.”  The word “Law” is an unfortunate choice for the Hebrew word TORAH – TORAH really has the sense of “teachings.”  It is the title which covers the first five books of the Bible, which, yes, do include the Ten Commandments and other rules and regulations.  However, the Book of Genesis and other important tidbits of God and human history are also included, which broadens the content from merely a list of “do’s and don’t’s”.
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Think of what is there!  Imagine meditating on the wonder of Creation!  Thrill to the Divine Mind Who figured out the intricacies of light, matter, energy.  Wonder at the complexity of atomic matter which came into being suddenly, yet has taken how many centuries to begin to unravel its secrets.  Be astounded at the interrelated systems within the cell when without any one of them the cell could not survive nor reproduce.  Be in absolute awe at the amazing code in DNA, in which the information in one cell’s strands would fill hundreds of printed volumes of encyclopedias.

Consider the beauty of the cheetah running, the interplay of the muscles and bones, as it tops100 kilometers (60 miles) an hour.  Study the marvelous design of birds totally fitted for flight.  Wonder at the construction of the feather, to be so light weight and yet complex for aerodynamics.  Admire the beauty of the colors in the feather which often depend on a light source’s angle as to what color is seen.  Be humbled by the design of the butterfly wing, the moth wing, and the colors along with the patterns which refuse to be attributed to chance.

Stand speechlessly as to what humans were created to be, with the brain’s incredible capacity, with its ingenuity and creativity, along with the understanding it can have; how humans were equipped and fully intended to represent God to all Creation.  Watch silently God’s disappointment, expected but still sad, at how humans replaced their specialness with an arrogance which has only destroyed them.  And yet wonder at how God immediately stepped in with hope and a plan foretelling a Son, a Messiah, a Christ Who will rescue any and all who contritely come to Him.

This only covers the first three chapters of the Law or TORAH!  There are yet chapters to come in which a particular human was singled out and honored to be the ancestor of the One Who would redeem all humanity.  Not in some mere nicey-nice sentiment, Yahweh God placed Abraham into an impossible relationship where this man, not even close to being an equal with the Creator, yet in Covenant was treated as an equal, in a relationship which still exists today for those who in Baptism seek and value that unique connection to the Creator.

Psalm 77[:12] declares “I will also meditate on all Your work, and talk of Your deeds”; and in Psalm 143[:5] “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your works; I muse on the work of Your hands.”  Paul summarizes Biblical meditation in Philippians 4[:8]:

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things.

Hindu meditation with its empty mind indeed has a peacefulness with its nothingness, but at the same time leaves a person vulnerable to Satan’s deceptions and influences.  Recall last week’s Gospel in regard to the SyroPhoenician woman, who despite her well-meaning worship of Astarte, ended up with a demon-possessed daughter whom only Jesus could heal.

On the other hand, Paul indicates that one comes out of Biblical meditation filled with wonder, appreciation, delight, amazement, gratitude, and especially hope for life and for spiritual life.  One has renewed strength from seeing what God is capable of doing, wants to do, has done, and will do.  He realizes the involvement of God in all the world around him, seeing God’s endless wonders put on unabashed display before all to see.

Of course, though, the basis for the amazement and gratitude has a root cause identified in the verse prior to Paul’s quote: “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  That peace comes not from an empty mind, but rather by plunging into life with the security of a personal God Who would share abundant life with us here where we live; of an anchor in a cross in which full forgiveness is received by those who submit to God’s answer to our rebellion; and of a confidence rooted in a verified resurrection which powerfully established Jesus’ Lordship over death and over Satan’s vain attempts to turn our lives into nothings.

Then, rather than the blankness of a void, Jesus gives us a tangible reality with the words, “this is My Body, … this is My Blood” – just one more confirmation of how He does not deal with us merely philosophically, but is involved in a real world presence and enduring experience.

It is quite a choice presented when Paul bids us in the text for today, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”  Because of what God has given to us in His Word, both in the written word and in the Word made flesh, we are not consigned to the empty void of Brahman, but instead can be filled to overflowing with the exhilaration of dwelling in the goodness, the Covenant, the grace, the mercy, the steadfast Love, the faithfulness, the forgiveness, and the justice of a personal and involved God, the God of our salvation.

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