OMG! Did you say OM?
I decided to meditate today, and not at my usual evening hour.
I practice different forms of meditation depending on my mood. But today I decided to do yoga after I read the morning news.
I did some yoga after I read about a talk by Msgr. Jay Bandojo where he said, “When you practice yoga, you are told to ‘empty your mind’ while saying [the mantra] ‘om,’ so you can feel relaxed. But when you empty yourself, you’re opening yourself to possession. You have to be careful because demons might take advantage of (this) empty [vessel of your soul] and possess it.”
Meditation as healing
As a psychologist, I use many techniques to help people in crisis situations, some of them suicidal. During a crisis I prescribe a very structured set of exercises that ensures that my counselees energize all their resources: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Yes, spiritual. Me, a life-long and avowed agnostic. (There is space for agnosticism in most major religious traditions, too, but that is for a different article.)
Meditation is one of the techniques that I use to structure the days of my counselees in crisis. Scientific research shows that it can be quite helpful. The body slows down the release of neurochemicals and stress hormones that drive up blood pressure and heart rate and increase levels of arousal and alertness. Negative emotions such as fear, guilt, remorse and anger are incompatible with the calm that meditation induces. For many manic and deeply stressed people slowing thoughts down is beneficial. This helps them to focus on problems more clearly and without the overwhelming emotional responses that get in the way of effective processing and planning. With prolonged practice neurochemicals that stabilize mood and lessen depression increase.
Meditation as religious practice
But even as meditation has been validated scientifically, it comes to us from millenia of spiritual practice. All major religious traditions have forms of meditation.
Yoga, so much derided by Msgr. Bandojo, actually comes from 2 religious traditions, Hinduism and Buddhism. The Buddha, like Christ, was born into the prevailing religious tradition of his community. Christ was a Jewish carpenter. Buddha was a Hindu prince. And yoga comes imbued with many elements of both religions. It is proof of the ancient nature of yoga and its enduring relevance to the spiritual life of billions that it remains a major form of meditation in this new millenium.
When I counsel with people who, like myself, have no religious tradition I refer them to the many secular programs that teach meditation without any religious elements or to yoga classes, which are very welcoming of Christians, even Catholics who demonize them like Msgr. Bandojo. It might be proof of the good effect of yoga practice on Hindu and Buddhist communities that the Buddha lived to a ripe and comfortable old age, dispensing nuggets of wisdom during his short stay in this world. In short, they did not kill their prophet.
Meditation as prayer
Thus it is very easy for me to teach my Buddhist counselees how to meditate. I merely ask them to pray. Because for many Buddhists, meditation is prayer. And yes, Msgr. Bandojo, many Buddhists begin with the emptying of the mind by chanting “om.” Om, after all, denotes the foundational concept of all religions: the divinity that is in the universe, including the self. One must empty the transient self before prayer in order to get in touch with the divinity which is in the self and transcends the self. In Buddhism and Hinduism all forms of meditation including yoga, is also prayer.
It is easy to teach meditation to my Christian and Catholic counselees but it does require an additional step. I need to remind them that their prayerful practice is meant to bring them into the presence of the Divine (OM!!!!) and there find peace and acceptance in Christ. Thus the Catholic rosary with its endless repetition of mysteries is no different from the Buddhist ko-ans, also phrased as riddles or mysteries. It is an act not meant to bore us into submission or make us prove our fealty by sacrificing our time and our critical senses to mindless rote, but an act to make the mind break free from its capture by the mundane. Church leaders who prefer unthinking obedience to their temporal and silly agendas emphasize the ritualistic aspects of course, something noted by moral giants like Luther and Rizal.
Christ and the Buddha both broke from their given religious traditions by insisting that Divinity imbued the oppressed and the least-regarded of human beings. Born a prince in a society where social position and holiness were tied together, Buddha said to those considered unclean and unholy: “the Divine is in each one of us.” In the Bible, Christ first reveals his Divinity to the woman by the well – someone who by Jewish tradition he should not even have spoken to because she was, relative to Christ, “impure.” As she reminds him of this, he sets aside their religious differences and calls her nonethless to drink of the living water. Then he says to her, this impure woman from a different tribe and belief, that he is the Messiah.
This is the direct opposite of Msgr. Bandojo's idea that the bare self is a self that is susceptibe to the Devil. The Buddha and Christ tell us that the self, shorn of the markings of time, place, class, caste, customs and traditions – is the Divine self.
Get educated before you preach
Some would say that respect for religious freedom should prevent an agnostic like myself from commenting on a leader of the Church like Msgr. Bandojo. This has been my rule too unless the Church's pronouncements have serious effects on secular space and my daily life.
In this case, I am fighting for a psychological practice that has helped raped, battered, sexually harassed, and depressed women who seek healing through meditation.
I am fighting because in my own spiritual practice, I can hang on to my own deeply held moral beliefs while accepting and fostering the traditions and beliefs of various others who are different from me. And, when this is done properly, we can all find the Divine in each of us, no matter how that Divinity is expressed.
I am fighting because if religion does not teach the democracy of the soul that says, “The sacred exists in each of us, in equal measure, regardless of our beliefs or non-beliefs,” then feudal thinking, ignorance and blind obedience will permeate the ways our people choose their leaders, religious and political.
I am fighting for my own spiritual insight that through the centuries and to this day, it is the bigotry of one religion against another that is a major cause of crucifixion, torture, suffering, war and death.
Msgr. Bandojo cautions us that the devil may be in yoga practice. I suggest that the Devil has always been in our capacity to demonize people whose spiritual practice does not conform to our own. - Rappler.com