In the practice of biblical meditation, we don’t descend within our hearts to find God through a series of orchestrated steps; rather, we turn to His revelation in Scripture.
by Eunice Chung on January 10, 2020
Eastern forms of spirituality have been spreading in the West since the latter half of the twentieth century. For example, Transcendental Meditation (TM) cemented itself in the culture when Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (from India) brought his teachings to the West in the 1950s. TM’s popularity exploded as celebrities such as Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, and Jane Fonda embraced it as a personal practice to manage stress and achieve peace. It continues to influence culture as popular personalities (such as Tim Ferriss, Oprah Winfrey, and Clint Eastwood) have become vocal proponents.
According to Mahesh, TM is a process of “emptying one’s mind unto bliss where you see yourself as united with the Divine, as part of God.”[i] For twenty minutes in the morning and another twenty minutes in the evening, an individual repeats a personalized mantra to “[calm] the mind and [limit] the flow of extraneous thoughts.”[ii] Rather than focusing on external circumstances, pressures, or worries, TM concentrates on the self to eliminate stress and worry, and attain an absolute and transcendent experience of bliss.[iii]
Mahesh and his followers assert that TM requires neither a change in lifestyle nor religious conviction. Thus, it’s often adopted as a means of psychotherapy to address chronic illnesses and addictions while reducing stress. According to its medical proponents, TM alleviates the risk factors for substance abuse and instills protective factors that prevent relapses. A recent study concluded that TM improves brain function and cognition and can help reduce dropout rates and the negative effects of ADHD in children.[iv]
From all this, TM appears to be a beneficial practice that can improve an individual’s quality of life. Acknowledging these benefits, many Christians assume that TM aligns with the biblical directive to be still in God’s presence (Ps. 46:10), to seek God (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 5:3), and to pursue inner peace (Ps. 34:14; Isa. 26:3; Jn. 14:27; Phil. 4:7). But is TM actually biblical? Here are few things to consider.
First, TM encourages us to empty our minds to achieve personal happiness; but biblical meditation encourages us to fill our minds with the Word of God for the purpose of growing in conformity to Christ. Second, TM centers all of life on our pursuit of personal peace and pleasure; but biblical meditation centers all of life on the pursuit of God (our utmost treasure) as He reveals Himself in His Word. Third, TM is a means by which we discover, nurture, and cultivate the self; but biblical meditation is a means by which we deny ourselves in favor of the One who loved us and gave Himself for us (Matt. 5:13–14; 10:37–39; 13:44–47). Fourth, TM points us within ourselves for the resources required to face life’s challenges (often equating this inner search with the pursuit of the divine); but biblical meditation points us away from ourselves to God as the source of our strength.
In short, in the practice of biblical meditation, we don’t descend within our hearts to find God through a series of orchestrated steps; rather, we turn to His revelation in Scripture. We meditate upon what He reveals concerning His character, ways, works, and wonders, for the purpose of deepening our obedience and faithfulness.
As Keith Gerberding observes, “TM provides nothing more than a little salve to people with deep wounds.”[v] It enhances self-confidence while reducing stress and anxiety, but ultimately it does nothing to address the “deep wounds.” It can’t, because it fails to address the real issues. For that, we must turn elsewhere – to God as He reveals Himself in His Word. “Blessed is the man … [whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:1–3).
* Eunice Chung is a PhD student in biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY.
[i] Joseph Weber, Transcendental Meditation in America: How a New Age Movement Remade a Small Town in Iowa, 33.
[ii] Paul Oliver, Hinduism and the 1960s: The Rise of a Counterculture (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014), 58.
[iii] Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, The Science of Being and the Art of Living (Buffalo: Allied Publishers, 1963), 158.
[iv] David Orme-Johnson, “8.1 Three Randomized Experiments on the Longitudinal Effects of the Transcendental Meditation Technique on Cognition,” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 58, no. 10 (2019): S311–S312.
[v] Keith A. Gerberding, How to Respond to Transcendental Meditation (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1977), 30.